The regulations governing food and beverage products are extensive and quite complicated. These regulations fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA, but the FDA does not preapprove labels. Instead they rely on their enforcement powers to make sure businesses stay in compliance.
What this means is you are responsible for complying with the law. If you don’t and you get caught, then you could get in significant trouble, including fines, seizure of your product or even criminal prosecution. Believe me, when I say it’s better to spend the time and effort to learn how to properly label your products then to risk putting them on store shelves without knowing whether they comply.
Many businesses have called me in a panic over the years in a panic because they’ve received an FDA Warning letter or Notice Letter, giving them 15 days to correct labeling violations. The 15 days not only includes coming up with new compliant labels, but also relabeling all of their products. This is an extremely short deadline to meet, especially if you have product on store shelves that need to be recalled. This will not only hurt your bottom line, but could damage relationships with customers and vendors.
In my experience, the following are the most important things you’ll need to know in order to keep your label in compliance.
In general, all labels should contain the following mandatory information:
These mandatory disclosures are either on the Principal Display Panel or “PDP” or on the Information Panel.
PDP is the panel consumers will most likely see when sitting on the shelf. The Information Panel is the panel immediately to the right of the PDP.
PDP should contain:
Information Panel should contain:
FDA regulations prohibit intervening material on the information panel. Intervening material is anything on the label that is not mandatory. So an example is placing a barcode in between the ingredients list and the manufacturer’s information, or between the Nutrition Facts and ingredients list.
Too frequently I see startup food businesses who think that stylizing the Nutrition Facts panel should be part of the labeling design process, whether it be in the form of a cool design that flows with the rest of the label or varying color schemes that match their branding.
My advice…don’t touch the Nutrition Facts panel. Not ever.
Nutrition Facts panels are not supposed to blend in with your designs, the whole point is to stick out so that consumers can easily find nutritional information to make an informed purchase. The regulations provide strict guidance on the formatting of Nutrition Facts panels, so when in doubt it’s better to follow their examples instead of trying to come up with one of your own.
All ingredients must be listed on the label by their common or usual name. So if sugar is added as an ingredient, it should be listed as “sugar” and not by its scientific name “sucrose.” If water is added, then it needs to be included as an ingredient, unless cooked off during the manufacturing process.
Spices and artificial or natural flavors can be listed in 2 ways:
All foods that contain major allergens are required to disclose them on their labels. Major food allergens include:
Since people are allergic to specific types of certain food allergens, for tree nuts, fish and shellfish, the type or species must also be listed. The allergens may be disclosed either in parentheses after the ingredient in the ingredients list, or they may be listed in a “Contains” statement immediately following the ingredients list.
Not declaring allergens or listing them incorrectly are one of the most common FDA labeling violations, so make sure you’re familiar with the specific requirements if your product contains a major food allergen.
I’m sure you’ve thought about looking at a competitor’s label and copying certain information, but how do you know their label is correct? I don’t know how many times I’ve had clients tell me “well, I just copied it from another label” without actually spending the time to see if the label was done right in the first place.
The FDA can be forgiving, especially to new food businesses, but if your response is “I didn’t bother doing the work,” they aren’t going to treat you very kindly. In fact, they will probably make sure you learn you lesson by imposing the harshest penalty allowed under the law so you don’t do it again.
Looking at another product label isn’t forbidden, actually it can provide some good guidance in terms of placement or formatting styles. But remember, don’t rely on someone else’s label as a substitute for doing the work on your own.
Labeling compliance is critical for your food or beverage business. Not only can the FDA bring an enforcement action against you for violating labeling regulations, but you can expose yourself to lawsuits from angry consumers and/or ambulance chasing lawyers looking to make a quick buck shaking down entrepreneurs.
Certain lawyers and law firms recently started targeting food businesses with lawsuits for labeling violations. Just do a quick search online and you can find countless lawsuits filed by these vultures. Everything from not properly listing ingredients to improperly claiming a product is healthy for you.
Take the time now to learn the basic labeling rules in order to minimize the potential risks to your business.
If you want to learn more about labeling your food or beverage product, please view our course Labeling Your Food and Beverage Products: FDA Labeling Basics.
The course is only available as StartupFoodBiz.com.
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