A food label is typically divided into two main areas for purposes of describing required label information. One area is termed the Principle Display Panel (PDP). The PDP is the main area of the label that is normally presented to the consumer. If there is additional space on the label, the PDP will normally contain the statement of identity and the net contents statement. The other label area that is identified for regulatory purposes is the Information Panel (IP). This is the area of the label immediately to the right of the PDP. If that area is unsuitable for labeling then the IP may be placed elsewhere, such as on the back of the container.
Labeling regulations state the Nutrition Facts panel, the ingredients statement, and the name and place of business of the food product’s manufacturer, packer, or distributor must be presented in sequential order on the label and without any intervening material. Optional but commonly supplied label information such as barcodes, graphics, website addresses, and the like are considered intervening material if they act to separate any of the required information. For example, if a manufacturer lists a website after the company name and before the city and zip code that would be considered intervening material and the label would be non-compliant. Similarly, inserting a picture after the Nutrition Facts panel or after the ingredients statement would also render the label non-compliant.
These five pieces of information are mandatory for all food labels, but label designers should be aware that other information may also be required on the PDP and/or IP if some types of nutrient content claims are made.
Undeclared allergens have become the most common cause of U.S. product recalls due to mislabeling. Most often this is the result of accidental allergen cross-contact during production or a formulation change that unwittingly replaces a formerly non-allergenic ingredient with an allergen-containing ingredient.
A rigorous allergen control program in combination with good allergen labeling practices should help minimize the incidence of allergen-related recalls. In an effort to raise awareness and strengthen allergen control measures industry-wide, the new preventive controls rule of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) requires most food processors to create and implement a robust allergen control program if they do not already have one.
Regulations mandate allergen labeling if a food product contains one of the so-called big eight allergens: eggs, milk, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, crustacean shellfish, and wheat. It is important to note that regulations also require the type of tree nut, the type of fish, and the type of crustacean shellfish to be specifically declared because these types of allergies can be species specific and a person who is allergic to pecans, for example, may not be allergic to almonds.
Manufacturers sometimes ask what constitutes a “tree nut.” The FDA considers the following list to be tree nuts for allergen labeling purposes: almond, beech nut, brazil nut, butternut, cashew, chestnut (Chinese, American European, Seguin), chinquapin, coconut, filbert/hazelnut, ginko nut, hickory nut, lichee nut, macadamia nut/bush nut, pecan, pine nut/pinon nut, pili nut, pistachio, sheanut, and walnut (English, Persian, Black, Japanese, California)/heartnut/butternut. Also, crustacean shellfish such as lobster, crab, shrimp, and so on are considered allergens, but molluscan shellfish, such as oysters, clams, mussels, or scallops, are not.
There are two basic options for declaring an allergen on a food label. First, the declaration may be made in the ingredients statement. If the allergen is clearly identified by its common name, such as milk, then no further label declaration is required. If the ingredient is derived from an allergen, but not clearly identified by name, then a parenthetical statement may follow the ingredient in the list to identify the allergen. For example, whey protein is derived from milk but does not contain the word “milk” in its name. In this instance, allergen-labeling requirements is satisfied by listing “whey protein (milk)” in the ingredients statement.