US Food Labeling Requirements: How Businesses Can Comply
Food labeling is a federal requirement in the United States. Businesses including meat and poultry processing plants are required to follow proper food labeling requirements. Non-compliance can result in hefty fines and may even lead to plant closures. Use this guide to understand the food labeling requirements in the U.S. and learn how you can help your organization always remain compliant.
Remember, this guide was created to provide helpful insight. This is by no means a comprehensive or official document. Please consult the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service for more information. (www.fsis.usda.gov)
Food labeling in the United States
When it comes to food safety and product information, food labeling is extremely important. Food labeling is one of the most basic ways that a food manufacturer can communicate important information to food distributors and consumers.
Understanding US Food Labelling Requirements
Food manufacturers in the U.S. put labels on their products for two reasons:
The first reason is that the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) requires that food products be labeled with certain information. This information is important for product identification and food safety.
Having a food label with the manufacturer’s name and address, product weights, ingredients, allergens, and safe handling instructions provides key information to the food supply chain.
Secondly, large food retailers require barcoded food labels on products that they receive from food manufacturing facilities. Receiving barcoded products helps food retailers streamline their receiving and traceability processes.
Barcoded product labels also reduce human errors and allow food products to be tracked down to the individual product serial numbers.
In the U.S., food labeling is such an important part of food safety that it is regulated by the federal government. The two governing bodies that regulate food labeling are FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). For the most part, the meat and poultry industry falls under the jurisdiction of FSIS. There are exceptions to that, but for this blog, we will be focusing on the FSIS regulations.
What is required on food labels in the US?
As mentioned above, two federal governing bodies regulate food labeling, the FDA and FSIS. It should be mentioned that there might also be local state food labeling requirements. However, any meat or poultry products that are marketed and sold across state lines are subject to federal regulation over the local state regulations.
FSIS has the governing jurisdiction over food labeling for meat and poultry products. The exceptions to this rule are if there is only a minimal amount of meat or poultry used in the final product, or if the final product has not historically been considered a meat or poultry product. For those two exceptions, the labeling jurisdiction falls under the FDA.
FSIS requires all meat and poultry processors to properly label “immediate containers.” The FSIS Labeling Requirements Guide defines an immediate container as any of the following, “bags, cardboard cartons, tray packs, and film bags enclosing processed or prepared meat products.” These containers must be properly labeled unless they are placed inside a shipping container and sold from one USDA establishment to another. Prepared meats that will be sold individually to consumers must have all of the proper labeling on each immediate container regardless of whether or not they are in a shipping container.
Products can be labeled with either one label called a Principal Display Panel (PDP) or with both a Principal Display Panel and an additional Information Panel (IP) that includes other mandatory fields. When labeling a product, there are up to eight specific labeling requirements. Four of the requirements are required to be on the Principal Display Panel. Those requirements include the product name, handling statement, inspection legend/establishment number, and net weight.
The other four required fields can be placed on the Principal Display Panel or the optional Information Panel. These other fields include the manufacturer’s name and address, ingredient statements, nutritional facts, and safe handling instructions.
Technically, the FSIS needs to approve every food product label that is applied to a meat or poultry product. However, that requirement is so cumbersome that they have developed two approval processes for labels. The two methods for approving labels are the Sketch Approval Process and the Generic Approval Process.
The Sketch Approval Process is done through the Labeling and Program Delivery Staff (LPDS). This process allows meat processing facilities to submit a label mockup with all of the relevant fields and information. The LPDS will either approve the sketch label or require modifications. Once the sketch is approved, the processor or distributor is responsible for making sure the final product labels match what was approved by the LPDS.
According to FSIS’s labeling overview, there are only four types of labels that require a Sketch Approval:
- Labels for temporary approval
- Labels for products produced under religious exemption
- Labels for products exported with labeling deviations
- Labels with special statements and claims
Any label that doesn’t fall under the four categories listed above is subject to the Generic Approval Process. A label is generically approved if it is compatible with the Generic Label Regulations. A generically approved label can be submitted to the LPDS, but that label will be a low priority for their approval process.
Penalties for Food Labelling Non-Compliance
If a processor or distributor is not compliant with the FSIS labeling requirements, there is a wide range of penalties that can be imposed. These penalties can be extremely costly, can damage a company’s brand, and can result in prosecution. It is extremely important to use the available resources provided by the FSIS to ensure that your labels meet the requirements.
Carlisle Food Labeling solutions
Carlisle Technology has been serving the meat industry for over 35 years. Our plant-floor weighing and labeling software was developed to help processors properly weigh and label meat products.
With Carlisle Technology’s integrated solutions, meat processing plants can reduce human errors, increase throughput, and streamline the entire labeling process. For more information on our weighing and labeling solutions go to www.carlisletechnology/icap
Written by: Andy Cumpton, Sales and Marketing – Carlisle Technology
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