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Tech Papers

Understanding Food Label Regulations

Mettler Toledo CI-Vision

The past decade has seen an enormous increase in concerns over food safety. While many efforts have been made to mitigate contamination and improper handling of food products, it is only recently that similar concerns about consumer education have become part of the larger conversation. This is not to say that product labels have lacked for regulation—there are laws on the books going back decades dictating the sort of information that product labels require—but apart from a basic set of guidelines, labels could take on nearly any sort of appearance, so long as a few particular pieces of information were present in some form or another.

These simple pieces of information included the name of the product, a list of ingredients, the name of the manufacturer and the address of whichever company owned the brand name. Perishable foods required an expiration date, and other foods required lot codes for recall purposes, but even these were not particularly a priority. There were, until recently, no requirements for legibility, location, or size. More importantly, there were also no particular regulations governing the placement of allergen warnings beyond a requirement that product ingredients be present on the package.

Consumers, however, have long been growing more aware of what goes into the products they consume—and as consumers begin to demand more easily-accessible information about the food they eat, government and industry regulators have slowly but surely began to focus even more on product labeling. The release of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) Food Safety Issue 7, which added a new section to their regulations specifically dealing with print and label quality, is one such indicator of this trend, as is the EU’s Food Information Law (or Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011), which is still taking full effect. Similarly, the FDA updated their Food Label Guide in 2013 and is considering further improvements to the nutrition information requirements for food product labels.

As governments and regulators move to respond to consumer pressures, food product manufacturers are left to comply with the new regulations in order to avoid recalls, decertification or fines. For manufacturers selling products globally, this means keeping track of the mounting labeling regulations for each country, as well as ensuring that every product label is up to specifications. There are an increasing number of ways in which a label might now fail to meet one of those specifications, making a strict label quality control process more necessary than ever.

Part of a strict label quality control program is the use of a vision inspection system to both prevent mislabeling and ensure the print quality of the label meets industry regulations. Exploring the labeling guidelines for some of the larger world markets shows shared traits among each, but also highlights differences which need to be kept in mind when designing product labeling. Industry regulations, such as the BRC’s Issue 7, deal less with the content of the labels themselves and focus more on preventing labeling errors. This paper gives an overview of labeling regulations and requirements for the US, EU, and Chinese markets.

You can download the complete white paper here.

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