ELEMENTS OF ACCESSIBILITY: FOOD LABELLING IN THE U.S. MARKET

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Food&Beverage United States of America Market Accessibility

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FOOD LABELS: ALL THE COMPONENTS

Food labelling in the USA is regulated by the FDA (CFR 21.1011). The US standard provides a type of label completely different from the EU label, due to the position of the information and its relevance (i.e. Nutrition Facts). The reason for this is that the American consumer (and, consequently, authorities) has different requirements.

POSITIONING

Firstly, it is important to provide some definitions for the terms used in the Regulation about the information positioning:
  • Principal Display Panel (PDP): means the field of vision of a package which is most likely to be seen at first glance by the consumer at the time of purchase;
  • Information Panel: the right side with respect to the PDP;
  • Alternate Principal Display Panel: the field of the package which is ordinarily not be seen to the consumer, but that could be seen alternatively to the PDP (i.e. in the cornered packs, it is the opposite side with respect to the PDP).

The comprehensive mandatory requirements of the product can be reported on the PDP or, alternatively, some of them can be on the PDP and the rest on the Information Panel. In particular, the requirements which are always mandatories obligatorily appear on the PDP, such as the name of the product and the net weight. The requirements that can or have to appear on the Information Panel are: name and address of the manufacturer, packager and distributor, the list of ingredients and the Nutrition Facts, while no “intervening material” (i.e. each information that is not mandatory) has to appear.

CHARACTERS

All the words included in the Information Panel must be written with a character whose height is almost 1/16 inch (1,6 mm) with reference to the lowercase “o”. Smaller characters are allowed for limited size packages, anyway the ratio of height and width must not be bigger than 3:1. Nutrition Facts, name of the product and net weight have different rules.

ORIGIN

About product’s origin, it must indicate the name of the manufacturer, packager, or distributor. If the name does not belong to the manufacturer, it is necessary to add “manufactured for” or “distributed by”. It is necessary to clearly provide the address, city, zip code, country of origin. It is allowed to use foreign languages, as long as the mandatory requirements are translated in all the languages.

PRODUCT NAME

The product name must be in evidence and have to be one of the main elements on the PDP. Further, it must be parallel to the base of the package, indicate a name established by the law, or common and descriptive, and it should not be misleading. The fantasy name given by the manufacturer is not considered as the product name and it must not be prominent regarding it. However, if the nature of the product is evident, the name of fantasy can be used (i.e. Nutella). The name should be complemented by the physical state of the foodstuff (i.e. sauce, juice, etc.).

NET WEIGHT

The net quantity has to be reported in dry measurements (for dry foods) or liquid (for liquids), with the net weight. It has to appear in a precise point located in the package and it should report both the quantity in metric and American units of measurements (pounds, ounces, gallons, etc.): Net wt 500ml (1pt 0.9 fl oz). The width of the characters varies depending on the PDP dimensions2. The font must be easy-to-read, prominent and sizeable, and it must contrast with the background, in order to be emphasized; the ratio of height and width must not be bigger than 3:1. The net quantity indication on the label must not be too close to other indications to allow the label legibility. Furthermore, the quantity can be expressed in decimals or fractions (i.e. ¼ oz.), if we have a “multipack” item, the single pack number and weight should be reported and not numerical information should not be present.

LIST OF INGREDIENTS

All the ingredients must be listed by descending order of percentage weight. Water is considered as an ingredient and it must always be listed, unless it is removed during the production process. The ingredients should always be listed with their common or usual name (i.e. sugar, salt). The traces of ingredients are not included; an incidental presence could be considered, with the exception of the sulphites, which is mandatory to declare over than 10 ppm. Flavours and spices can be listed singularly with their common name, or reported only with the general category (Natural or Artificial Flavors); mix of spices must list the single ingredients. The “ingredients of an ingredient” (i.e. multicereal flours, creams, etc) must appear in parenthesis, after the ingredient which contains them or, alternatively, be scattered inside the list of ingredients.

SHELF LIFE

It may seem odd that the shelf life is not a mandatory requirement in the American labelling and it is not required by any federal law: FDA says nothing about this, while the USDA (responsible for meats, poultry and eggs) just alludes to it. Anyway, it is possible to indicate the expiration date on a voluntarily basis and it should state day and months, or day, months and year for frozen food or long-life foods.
If a date is given, it is necessary to report what it indicates too:

  • Sell by: indicates the date until the product can be sold;
  • Best if used by (or Before): indicates a date by which the product should be consumed; it is not obligatory neither for sale, nor for consumption;
  • Use by: is the deadline within which the product has to be consumed, it is provided by the manufacturer.

Inside the label, information about the proper storage of the product may appears.

NUTRITION FACTS

As we mentioned before, the nutrition facts labelling has been recently changed. Firstly, it is mandatory with few exceptions. It has always to be included in a box that must not contain other than this. Its values can result both from calculation than from analysis and the value referring to carbohydrates must always include fiber (to keep attention with reference to laboratory tests).

Recommendations about characters and lines are precisely provided in CFR Title 21, 101.9 (d), while CFR Title 21 101.12 provides recommendations to ensure the correct identification of the serving sizes. Only the nutritional values recommended in CFR 21 101.9 (c) can be included in the box; some of them are always mandatory, others are voluntary. Some of the Vitamins or Minerals listed must be included in the box if a specific “claim” refers to them, unless they are part of a final ingredient or incorporated for technological purposes. CFR 21 101.9 (c) and the Food Labelling Guide regulate the percentage of daily values too. About recent changes to Nutritional Facts, these are the main changes: Key information is more evident: the “Calories” statement has got an increased size; the calories ‘value and the “Serving size” inscription have bold font to highlight them; “Serving size” indication is changed: the law requires that the serving sizes are to be based on the quantity of food and beverage that people effectively consume, and not on the basis of which they would have to eat or drink. Consumers changed since the last requirements were published in 1993, so packaging and forms of foodstuff were adjusted.

New interesting parameters: a declaration about the quantity of added sugar is requested. Now, the list of the mandatory values includes the Vitamin D and the potassium, substituting Vitamins A and C, which must be included on a voluntary base. The indication “Calories from fat” has been removed, as the recent medical researches concluded that the type of fat is mostly an indication to value risks associated to chronic diseases, with respect to the total quantity of fat.
Changes to some values about recommended daily values.

New nutritional facts labelling: terms of implementation

  • 1st January 2020: for manufacturers with an annual turnover over $10 billions
  • 1st January 2021: for manufacturers with an annual turnover lower than $10 billions
  • 1st July 2021: for manufacturers of most of sugar to be a single ingredient, such as honey and maple syrup, and some products of blackberries.

Details on food labelling in the United States, please see the related IMA Guide ExportPlanning.


Valeria Minasi

is an export and internationalization consultant. She collaborates with the ExportPlanning team within the project International Market Accessibility Help-Desk.


(1) Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 Food and Drugs, Chapter I Food and drug administration Department of health and human services, Subchapter B Food and Human Consumption, Part 101 Food labelling.
(2) 21 CFR 101.1.
(3) It should be noted that the deadline for producers of dried flavoured cranberries to comply with the new legislation is 1 July 2020.