Imagine receiving a warning letter from the FDA claiming that your package label was in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. They give you 15 days to report back with the steps you plan to take to correct this violation, expecting modifications to the design of your label. This exact situation happens every day to food manufacturers all over the country.
The FDA closely monitors the food industry for labeling violations and places particular emphasis on claims and statements made on the front-of-package labeling. This is because this area is used to catch shoppers’ attention, but often does not provide a full picture of the nutritional composition of the product.
Thankfully you don’t have to receive a warning letter to understand the labeling requirements. Here are four of the most common front-of-package violations found in the food industry.
- Claiming Nutrient Content Without Disclosure Statements: There must be a disclosure statement next to every nutrient content claim on a food label – consumers need to know the truth! Package labels that make nutrient content claims about a specific nutrient, such as “0g trans fat,” but fail to identify high levels of “negative” nutrients that are present in the products, are in violation. Disclosure statements for high levels of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and/or sodium must be included when making a nutrient content claim.
- Invalid Nutrient Content Claims: It makes sense to let customers know how they can benefit from using your product, but exaggeration just doesn’t cut it in the food labeling business. Nutrient content claims such as “cholesterol free”, and “excellent source of____” must meet the legal requirements approved and established by the FDA. Warning letters have been sent to manufacturers that produce vegetable shortening, fruit juice, and cereal products for making nutrient content claims that are inaccurate.
- Restricted Claims on Products for Young Children: There are a large number of products intended for infants and children under the age of two that have been found to have unauthorized claims on their labels. These claims include “healthy,” “no added sugar,” “good source of iron,” “low sodium,” and “plus fiber.” Although the safety of these food products is not a concern, the FDA has not authorized most nutrient content claims for foods that are intended for infants and toddlers.
- Unauthorized Health Claims: Everyone would love to have a magic food that cured all their ailments, but in reality, health claims on food products are very limited and regulated. Health claims for treating, preventing, or curing diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and cancer are not allowed on food products. These are considered to be drug claims. There are health claims that are allowed on package labels, such as the relationship between fiber-containing grain products, fruits, and vegetables and the reduced risk of coronary heart disease, but certain product specifications must be met before the claim is authorized.
The bottom line: make sure the statements made on your package labels are truthful, meaningful, and useful in helping consumers make proper food choices and construct healthy diets.