Evolving industry regulations, requirements, and customer preferences continue to complicate food and beverage labeling. From complying with broad-sweeping reforms designed to better inform end consumers to preparing for pending regulations, it’s more important than ever before for manufacturers to have an agile labeling environment to meet today’s requirements and quickly respond to those that will be required in the future. And because the stakes are high—inaccurate labeling of a known allergen represents a serious health risk—these labeling environments need to rely on systems that minimize manual processes in favor of labeling accuracy. Here’s a closer look at just a few of the labeling changes impacting food and beverage labels.
According to FDA’s 5th Annual Reportable Food Registry (May 2016), undeclared allergens topped the recall cause list, accounting for 47 percent of U.S. food recalls in FY15. In an effort to help consumers avoid the risks posed by food allergens, and to help manufacturers avoid recalls, Congress passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA). Before FALCPA, labels for food containing two or more ingredients were required to list all ingredients by their usual names. The issue was that some of the ingredients did not clearly identify their food source, making it extremely difficult for consumers to determine the presence of allergens.
Today, FALCPA requires that the food source names of all ingredients be prominently displayed if they are included in one of eight FALCPA defined major food allergen groups: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy beans. Failure to follow FALCPA can result in life or death situations for consumers and damaging, costly recalls and other legal issues for food and beverage manufacturers.
And the U.S. isn’t the only country making significant changes that impact food and beverage labeling. The European Union (EU) recently passed regulation 1169/2011, which guarantees consumers’ rights to adequate information by establishing general food labeling principles, requirements, and responsibilities for the foods they consume.
The regulation, which became mandatory on Dec. 13, 2016, mandates stylistic highlighting of the following 14 allergens when they appear in an ingredient list: molluscs, eggs, fish, peanuts, sulphur dioxide and sulphites, mustard, soybeans, milk, crustaceans, celery, lupin, sesame seeds, cereals containing gluten (wheat, rye, barley, oats, or their hybridized strains), and nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecans, Brazil nuts, pistachios, macadamias, Queensland nuts).
So, how do food manufacturers stay ahead of mounting allergen regulations? One of the best ways to do so is by using a barcode labeling software that has the ability to tag or track allergens. For example, CODESOFT, a barcode labeling solution by TEKLYNX, includes a new “Tagged Texts Management” feature. The feature allows users to tag (bold) allergen words whenever they appear in an ingredient list. Once an allergen is tagged, it is automatically logged into a database so the same format can be applied to allergen data in multiple languages, ensuring food labels comply with requirements globally.
In addition to identifying allergens, barcode labeling software plays an important role in recall prevention because it increases label accuracy. The software itself significantly reduces the room for human error throughout the labeling process, increasing labeling accuracy and lessening the chance of a recall. And, should a recall be initiated, the software helps manufacturers identify the products labeled with specific lot numbers to more accurately pinpoint impacted products, reducing the time required to expedite the recall.
According to a recent Nielsen survey, 72 percent of beer drinkers think it’s important to read nutritional labels when buying beverages. As a result, the Beer Institute recently announced the Brewers’ Voluntary Disclosure Initiative to add nutrition facts, an ingredients list, and freshness dating to beer bottle and can labels.
Jim McGreevy, president and CEO, Beer Institute, stated the following regarding the Brewers’ Voluntary Disclosure Initiative in a news article on www.wsls.com. “The Beer Institute, and its member companies, believes this is a step in the right direction to demonstrate a commitment to quality and transparency through these voluntary measures. Beer is the most popular alcohol beverage in the United States, and I look forward to brewers and importers including a serving facts statement along with disclosing all ingredients in their products. Providing meaningful information will ultimately empower the consumer when making decisions regarding the beer beverage of their choice.”
Although compliance is not a legal requirement, the Beer Institute hopes the initiative will show commitment to quality and transparency and is encouraging participating brewers to achieve compliance by the year 2020. For beer manufacturers, barcode labeling plays an important role in labeling compliance. Manufacturers should select a barcode labeling software that allows for both label data and content to be treated as variable because it lets them easily vary labeling elements based on product type or labeling regulation, and easily accommodates changes as new regulations emerge.
Produce is yet another industry in the midst of major labeling changes. First introduced in 2008, the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) is an industry-wide effort to make the food manufacturing supply chain more transparent and ease the process of handling produce recalls by using a standardized labeling approach. In 2013, urgency around PTI surged when Walmart announced it would require all suppliers to its U.S. stores to comply with the PTI. Today, the PTI is required by the majority of U.S. retailers. The primary labeling component of the PTI is a unique Voice Pick Code based on a combination of data points including the Global Trade Item Number, lot number, and pack date. This means it’s critical to select barcode labeling software that features a built-in voice code formula to properly calculate unique Voice Pick Codes.
Nutrition Facts. The U.S. government is calling attention to the link between diet and chronic diseases, such as obesity and heart disease, with the introduction of a new Nutrition Facts label. Aimed at helping consumers make better informed nutrition choices, the new label will be mandatory for manufacturers in the U.S. and those exporting goods into the U.S. as of July 26, 2018.
Nutrition Facts label changes include the following:
- Declaration of serving size that more accurately reflects the amount of food customarily consumed; expressed in a more understood household measure;
- Increased prominence of calories, servings per container and numeric values;
- Included amounts of added sugars; and
- New nutrients such as vitamin D and potassium will be required while others such as vitamins A and C will become optional.
FSMA. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law by President Obama on Jan. 4, 2011. It aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it. One way to improve food safety is to reduce food recalls, with the majority of recalls being caused by misbranding. Such labeling errors, whether due to a missing or incomplete label, mislabeled ingredients, or failure to properly declare a required allergen, can not only be detrimental to food safety, but can also prove costly to companies.
FSMA is a major shift in focus from how food manufacturers, suppliers, and retailers respond to food contamination to how they prevent it as it gives the FDA mandatory recall authority and the ability to keep suspect food from being shipped. In addition, FSMA calls for increased preventive controls from food manufacturers and requires companies to either establish or enhance operations, plans, and procedures for preventing food safety issues, including product recalls.
EU Food Information for Consumers. The Food Information for Consumers regulation incorporates EU Regulation 1169/2011, which pertains to mandatory labeling changes for food items sold in Europe, including imported food or food sold online to European vendors. The goal is to protect consumers’ health by requiring labels that properly list allergens, are more legible and simple to understand, list origins of unprocessed meat, and provide thorough nutrition information on processed foods.
Nutrition information became a requirement on packaged foods as of Dec. 13, 2016, but a required format has yet to be determined. However, food and beverage manufacturers selling products to any EU country should expect to comply with a required format in the near future. A number of these formats are currently being tested with the use of color throughout the label to call out the healthfulness of a product. In fact, a 3-month trial in French supermarkets revealed that a nutrition color system is likely to influence consumer purchasing behavior. As a result, France’s Ministry of Health is encouraging manufacturers to use the new 5-color nutrition label format based on a product’s “Nutri-Score” to help consumers make better informed food choices.
With so many broad-sweeping reforms underway and more ahead, it’s important to leverage a barcode labeling software solution that can accommodate both voluntary and mandatory requirements. For example, certain barcode label software can leverage database connections and variable data within the software’s label design interface to easily print Nutrition Facts labels for dozens of products using one compliance label template. In addition to streamlining nutrition labels, label design software reduces the room for human error because it leverages existing databases, automates variable data, and limits user permissions.
Other features can also meet labeling requirements. For example, TEKLYNX’ CODESOFT offers VisualBasic (VB) Scripting—a tool that can be used to stop an incorrect print job. If text is not legible or does not exceed a minimum font size, VBScripting cancels the print job. It also allows for greater flexibility as advanced VBScripting lets users create tables that automatically identify and tag allergens in existing databases.
What’s Next in Food Labeling
Over 75 percent of processed foods found on U.S. grocery store shelves contain genetically engineered ingredients. This staggering percentage, along with growing consumer concern for such ingredients, led to U.S. bill S. 764, a federal standard mandating the labeling of foods containing GMOs. The bill allows for different ways to include GMO information on food packaging, such as text or a symbol that identifies GMO ingredients, or a QR code that links to more information regarding the ingredients. In addition, short- and long-term plans are in place for the FDA to introduce implementation policies for GMO labeling.
Another growing consumer concern relates to the “best by” date on food products. Printing this date is common practice in the U.S., but it’s not required by law, which means companies can choose different standards to follow such as “sell-by,” “best by,” “use-by,” and “best before.” This difference in labeling language causes confusion among consumers and leads to increases in food waste.
To address this issue, bipartisan legislation was introduced in 2016 to standardize these dates. Known as the Food Date Labeling Act, the act would require date stamps on all packaged food to follow a uniform system. The bill is heavily predicted to pass, meaning food manufacturers should have a food date labeling system in place to ensure compliance.
How does barcode labeling software play a role in helping food and beverage manufacturers comply with these regulations? The answer lies within the capabilities of the barcode labeling software itself. Companies should select a software that can easily generate QR codes, features variable field styling, rich text fields, and “What You See Is What You Get,” or WYSIWYG, label design. All of these features improve the ability to build responsive, adaptable labeling environments.
Faced with an ever-changing list of labeling regulations and customer preferences, one thing remains clear for food and beverage manufacturers: They must equip themselves with dynamic labeling environments to efficiently and accurately meet these demands. A barcode labeling audit is a great starting point for companies. Its insights can help determine whether or not the company’s labeling system, and ancillary support systems, is prepared to meet required labeling standards in the most efficient and accurate manner possible. Doing so will position food and beverage manufacturers for long-term labeling success.
Niemeyer is the general manager for TEKLYNX Americas. Reach him at email@example.com.