For more than a year now, the foodservice industry has been awaiting changes by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that could impact the appearance and information found on Nutrition Facts Panels, otherwise known as food product labels. Initially, the compliance date was set for July 26, 2018.

Jill Carte

However, under a new proposal, food manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales would have until Jan. 1, 2020, to come into compliance. Further, those manufacturers with sales under $10 million annually would have an extra year – Jan. 1, 2021 – to come into compliance.

The FDA has been bantering around with compliance date changes for a good part of the year. In June, it said it planned to extend the compliance date, but did not give an exact time. It was not until Sept. 29 that they decided to push everything back a couple of years.

What’s going on?

“Stakeholders expressed concerns about their ability to update all products by the original compliance dates, as well as the importance of obtaining clarification from the FDA on some technical issues relating to the final rules,” the FDA said when announcing its decision on Sept. 29.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association welcomed the extension. According to their president and CEO, Pamela Bailey, “[The] FDA’s new compliance date will provide companies with the necessary time to execute these updates to the Nutrition Facts Panel in a manner that will reduce consumer confusion and costs in the marketplace.“

Bailey goes on to say that her association, along with others in the food manufacturing, operating and service industries believe pushing things back a couple of years simply makes good common sense. “This will allow [the] FDA to complete the necessary final guidance documents for added sugars and dietary fibers and gives companies adequate time to make the Nutrition Facts Panel revisions.”

However, this decision by the FDA was not greeted with much enthusiasm by organizations such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). This organization believes current food nutritional labels lack critical information that consumers should have now when making food selections. Further, the organization believes today’s food nutrition labels are far too confusing for most consumers to fully understand.

“The Food and Drug Administration’s decision to cave in to food industry demands and delay the deadline for companies to update their Nutrition Facts labels harms the public’s health. [It] denies consumers vital information, and creates an unfair and confusing marketplace as many companies have gone ahead with the labels anyway,” said Peter Lurie, CSPI’s president.

OK, so there you have the story: what’s happening now as far as food product labels and the different sides of the issue.

Let’s just take a closer look at some of the proposed changes and why they apparently caused such a commotion in the foodservice industry. Among them were (or still will be) the following:
Sugars. The new rule would require a declaration of a gram amount for “added sugars” in a food product. It would require a percent daily value declaration for these added sugars, and the new rules would change the name “sugars” to “total sugars.”
Vitamins. The list of vitamins and minerals required on the food label would require declarations regarding vitamin D as well as potassium. And it permits, rather than requires, declarations of vitamins A and C.
DVs. Specific reference to daily values such as daily percentages of certain nutrients are expected to be changed.
Appearance. The actual labeling and prominence of the term “calories” and the number of calories in a food product would be increased, helping to address obesity issues in major parts of the country.

Along with these changes, a major concern of the food service industry is much more practical. Food manufacturers, operators and retailers are going to be responsible for updating their food labels, and this could be a problem — and undoubtedly a costly problem — for some operators.

Something similar to this occurred recently in the professional cleaning industry. What is now in effect in most of the world is what OSHA has termed the Hazardous Materials Identification System (HMIS). This ruling impacts the look and information provided on labels placed on professional cleaning solutions, among other products.

The goal of HMIS is to eliminate words and replace them with “signal words” or pictograms to help remove language barriers. However, some chemical manufacturers in the industry said making this labeling change cost them thousands of dollars — in at least one case, more than $200,000 ­— and caused them to halt production on some products until new labels were available and placed on containers.

However, food manufacturers,operators and retailers that have kept current with new food labeling technologies will not face such issues nor their related costs. Technologies are available that help food processors and operators make labeling changes — as to the information on the label as well as the look of the label, such as giving more prominence to specific declarations — easily and quickly. Further, if the menus or ingredients used in the food product change, some systems can update the food label automatically, maintaining compliance.

As to the FDA and the proposed food label changes, it appears we might be back to the drawing board, at least for now. Beginning Oct. 2, the FDA started accepting written and electronic comments from stakeholders. However, it looks like changes in food labels are in our future. The extra two years are providing the foodservice industry with a little breathing room, so they can be up and ready with new technologies that can help them be in full compliance as soon as the regulations go into effect.  

DayMark Safety Systems is a leading provider of kitchen automation solutions that help the foodservice industry stay compliant while efficiently managing menu data, including nutritional, transactional and shelf life information. Jill Carte can be reached through the company’s website,