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What are the Requirements for a Food Label? – Short Food Labeling Guide

Food Label

Learn the food label requirements set forth by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure compliance with all regulations for food and beverage sales.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the sale and distribution of food and beverages in the United States. Without the right information present on the food label, you won’t receive approval to sell your item.

That’s why compliance with food label requirements is so important. Here’s a short food labeling guide to help you prepare for compliant product labeling.

Required Food Label Information

The FDA requires seven areas of information on food labels for legal sale of these goods. These items include the following information about the food product.

  • All labeling must be in English, though some foreign language is appropriate so long as the English translation is also present
  • Ingredients in descending order of predominance by weight so that the ingredient weighing the most is listed first and the ingredient that is the lightest is listed last. Spices, natural or artificial flavors can use common declarations, such as “spices” or “artificial flavor.”
  • Net contents in both metric and United States Customary System terms.
  • Nutritional information, with the option to include added detail, such as calories from saturated fat, potassium, sugar alcohol or vitamins and minerals for which there is a Reference Daily Intake (RDI) established.
  • Food allergens, including milk, fish, egg, tree nuts, crustacean shellfish, wheat, soybeans or peanuts. All packaged food after January 1, 2006, must comply with listing these 8 common allergens.
  • Product name or name of food item prominently displayed on the front label
  • Country of origin for the food item
  • Chemicals or food additives included in the product and the purpose of that additive, such as “to help protect flavor.”
Food label

Required Manufacturer Information

In addition to information about the product and what’s inside of it, you must include the following information about the food manufacturer.

  • Name and address for the manufacturer. Alternatively, this might be the name of the packer or distributor. In the case of the label including a distributor, the packaging should also state a phrase that says, “manufactured for” or “distributed by.”
  • If the street address is not listed in the local telephone book or city directory, you must include this information.
  • City/town
  • State or country when the company is based outside of the United States
  • ZIP code or postal code for manufacturers outside of the US

Beverage Labeling Requirements

Beverages also have some unique labeling requirements manufacturers and distributors should know about. Here are the additional regulations for beverage labels.

  • Beverages that boast that they contain juice must indicate what percent of the beverage is real juice. And if your label indicates visually that it includes fruit juice by way of photos, taste or appearance that would lead a consumer to believe that it includes juice, you should indicate what percent of juice it contains or clearly state that it does not contain juice. This is true for both carbonated and non-carbonated beverages.
  • Beverages that use only a small amount of fruit flavor do not need to include the percentage information. They can state that they are flavored, but they must not include juice in the ingredient list. And the beverages cannot give any impression that they include juice, including images of fruit or the look of juice.
  • Beverages made from 100 percent fruit juice can label the beverage as juice. However, when the beverage is made up of less than 100 percent fruit juice, the label must include a qualifying term, such as cocktail, beverage or drink. Or it can state that it is diluted juice.
  • Juice made from concentrate must state that it is made from concentrate or include the word reconstituted. 
  • When labeling mixes of fruits or vegetable juices on the label, you must list the fruits and vegetables in descending order of prominence by volume. The ingredient list is an exception to this rule. And if the label indicates that the juices are only used for flavor, then this rule does not apply.
Drink Label

Helpful Resources for Food Labeling

Failing to meet the food label requirements could mean that you don’t receive approval to begin distributing or selling your product. Or it could mean that your product doesn’t make it through customs if it is coming from overseas.

To ensure total compliance with all food labeling requirements, you should reference these helpful resources.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

The FTC provides details on US legislation concerning food labeling requirements. You should review the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act and discuss the act with your legal partners before putting a food or beverage item out for sale. 

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

The FDA website serves as a helpful tool in understanding food label requirements. 

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) 

FSIS is a part of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). As the name implies, this department ensures that food is safe for consumers. The safety oversight includes both the product quality and the quality of the labeling and packaging. You’ll find the Labeling and Label Approval page from FSIS helpful in ensuring compliance with these laws and regulations.

Food Label Regulation Exemptions

Some foods are exempt from food label requirements. One example of this is food manufactured by small businesses. These are classified as businesses with annual gross sales of less than $500,000. In this case, you would not need to file your product with the FDA.

Another exception to this rule is food served at restaurants or delivered to a person’s home. Fresh produce and seafood do not have to include labels, which makes them exempt from food label regulations as well. Infant formula and infant food have different rules and regulations for labeling.

Spices and other foods that provide no significant nutrition do not require the same items to be placed on their labels. Foods shipped in bulk that will undergo additional processing and packaging have different regulations.

Some foods are not designed for individual unit sales. These items can list this on their unit packaging, while the outer packaging will need to comply with all other food labeling requirements.

Donated food does not have to meet food labeling requirements unless it is later offered for sale.

Medical foods and dietary supplements fall under different regulations for product labeling. 

Food Label Compliance

Before designing and printing food labels, you should discuss the matter with your company’s legal counsel to ensure full compliance. This article provides a brief overview, but each situation is unique. 

Food Label

Even if you have your food labels professionally designed you should also get them reviewed with a legal team to ensure the designer followed all requirements. Designers are often not experts in food label compliance and instead focus on making your labels aesthetically pleasing.

Once your labels are designed and compliant with all requirements, you can choose a label maker that will work well for printing your labels on demand. Doing this in-house can reduce expenses and waste as you’ll print based on demand and customer needs instead of printing and purchasing in bulk.  

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