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The Ultimate FDA Food Labeling Guide

The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) requirements for food labeling can be overwhelming and confusing, especially for small/medium business owners such as yourself. The 132-page A Food Labeling Guide is available for download online, but you’ll probably spend more time understanding it instead of on creating the nutrition facts for your product. Here’s a food labeling guide that you can refer to in minutes, saving you the limited time and effort that comes with running a company.

Basic Elements on Food Packaging Labels

Your food packaging or container label can be placed in two areas: the principal display panel (PDP) or on both the PDP and the information panel.

Principal Display Panel (PDP)

The PDP is the first thing your customer sees on your product or packaging label. It must contain the following elements:

information panel and principal display panel (PDP)
  • Your statement of identity or the food’s name refers to your local law or regulation on the correct way to name food products. Otherwise, you must use the common naming for the item. The descriptive name should be clear and should not mislead the consumer in any way.
  • Net quantity statement or the amount of your product is the numeric count, weight, or measurement of your product. The net contents must be listed in both the metric and US Customary System terms for measurement (e.g. Net wt. 1 lb., 8 oz., 680 g). It is placed on the bottom 30 percent of the PDP and is parallel to the container’s base.

There is a minimum type size for the net quantity statement. Refer to the list below (taken from the FDA’s A Food Labeling Guide: Guidance for Industry) for the minimum type size based on the PDP’s area”:

Parts of a Principal Display Panel (PDP)
Minimum Type Size Area of Principal Display Panel
1/16 in. (1.6 mm) 5 sq. in. (32 sq. cm.) or less
1/8 in. (3.2 mm) More than 5 sq. in. (32 sq. cm.) but not more than 25 sq. in. (161 sq. cm.)
3/16 in. (4.8 mm) More than 25 sq. in. (161 sq. cm.) but not more than 100 sq. in. (645 sq. cm.)
¼ in. (6.4 mm) More than 100 sq. in. (645 sq. cm.) but not more than 400 sq. in. (2,580 sq. cm.)
½ in. (12.7 mm) Over 400 sq. in. (2,580 sq. cm.)

Information Panel

This panel is located to the right of the PDP, from the customer’s angle. For packages that cannot use the panel immediately to the right—such as folded boxes—the information panel is placed on a succeeding panel on the right side.

The FDA guide defines “information panel labeling” as the “statements that are generally required to be placed together, without any intervening material, on the information panel, if such labeling does not appear in the PDP.” To summarize, it includes:

Information Panel and Parts
  • The manufacturer, distributor, or packer’s name and address – If your given name is not the actual manufacturer of the product, you need to include a qualifying phrase that indicates the company’s relation to the item. For example, you can refer to it as “manufactured for” or “distributed by.”
  • The street address is included if the company’s name is not listed in the current city directory or telephone book. The address should include the city or town, state, and ZIP code. Firms based abroad may include the mailing code.
  • Ingredients list names the ingredients of your item according to the descending order of predominance. If you are to list them by weight, then the ingredient that weighs the most comes first and the one that weighs the least is last. The common or usual name of the ingredient must be included here. You can place this list between the nutritional facts or labels and the manufacturer's address.
  • Nutrition Facts Label is in the same area as the ingredients list and the manufacturer/distributor/packer name and address. It is a requirement for the majority of labeled food packages. The FDA recommends that the label have a consistent presentation, legible, and easily observable to the consumer. Apart from the nutrients, this section can also include the calories from saturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, monosaturated fat, sugar alcohol, potassium, soluble and insoluble fiber, other carbohydrates, and vitamins and minerals.
  • Food Allergen Labeling lists the major food allergens that fall under any of these food groups, eight foods, or are a protein derivate of the following:
    1. Egg
    2. Milk
    3. Fish
    4. Crustacean shellfish
    5. Tree nuts
    6. Wheat
    7. Peanuts
    8. Soybeans

Food Label Specifications

For the PDP:

  • Your brand name is not considered a statement of identity and cannot be used here.
  • The artwork on the PDP cannot distract from, hide, or misrepresent the product name.

For information panel labeling:

  • The letter must be at least 1/16 in. (or 1.6 mm) in height based on the lower-case letter “o.”
  • Letters cannot be more than three times as high as they are wide.
  • Lettering should contrast against the background for easy reading.
  • Smaller type sizes may be used for smaller food packaging.

For nutrition facts:

  • Heading printed in the largest type size, but no bigger than 8 pts. and isn’t required to go up to 13 pts.
  • Use any legible typestyle.
  • Any information in a foreign language should include an English translation.

Review of Old vs. New Nutrition Facts Labels

The FDA updated the requirements for nutrition fact labels back in May 2016. This was done to better “reflect the latest nutrition science and to better equip consumers to make informed food choices,” according to the New York Times guide to reading food labels. The old nutrition facts panel was based on fat and cardiovascular disease being the reasons for poor health in the 1990s. Now the concern is overweight and obesity, so the new label format focuses on the total calories and serving size information. It also suggests limiting sugar consumption with a breakdown of the total added sugars. The old label made this difficult to estimate from the total quantity.

Now that you have all the important and necessary information, you can start creating your product label today. Explore our site for the variety of labels and printing features that you can include.