FDA Basic Requirements for Food Packaging: What to Consider

When business owners and companies think about food packaging, they focus on making it attractive and enticing customers to buy the products. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is highly recommended. However, as a food brand, there are various things to remember as you design your package, from the functional items (size and special features) to the aesthetics (colors and graphics).

To reach your customers, you must ensure that the food packaging complies with all the existing regulations and laws in your targeted market. In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in charge of the control of food safety, carrying out both risk management and assessment. As such, the FDA regulates most packaged foods sold in the country, having specific requirements for what elements a package must contain. Find more information here. 

What Are the FDA’s Regulations on Food Packaging and Labeling?

Unless your operation is exempt, you must comply with the FDA’s packaging regulations to sell your food products. The regulation can be complicated, but this article should help clarify. Before discussing placement, it is vital to understand what every area is called and where it is on a package. 

The principal display panel (PDP) is the area most probable to be seen by a buyer on the shelf at the time of purchase. The area panel on the direct right of the PDP is the Informational Panel. The required packaging elements and placement include the following:

Statement of Identity

This is the legal name of your food, the common name of the food, or if these are not appropriate, a description of the food. Remember that it is not the same as your brand’s name. This statement of identity needs to be placed on the PDP as one of the prior art elements, and the font type size should be, at a minimum, half the size of the most prominent font on your food package. 

Net Quantity of Contents

The net quantity is the amount of food in the package, shown as fluid, weight measure, or the number of items. It must be placed in the base 30 percent of the PDP, in a type size determined by the total PDP area. 

Nutrition Facts Label

This label communicates vital information about the food your consumers eat. The FDA governs what label format to use on your food products depending on their package size and contents. So, the nutrition facts label must show the following:

  • The serving size (you can consult the RACC to determine it)
  • Household measure or standard household unit
  • Servings per container
  • Mandatory nutrients (total fat, total calories, trans fat, saturated fat, sodium, cholesterol, dietary fiber, total carbohydrate, added sugars, vitamin D, iron, protein, calcium, potassium)

The Nutrition Facts Label is generally placed on the PDP or the Information Panel near the ingredient statement.

Ingredient Statement

As a food brand, you must display the ingredient statement on the same panel as the manufacturer’s information, listing the ingredients in descending order of weight in a type at least 1/16″ tall and easy to read. Place this near the Nutrition Facts label, on the PDP, or on the Information Panel.

Allergen Declaration

According to The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA), packaged food items must declare, in plain language, the presence of any major food allergens on the product packaging, such as milk, egg, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, crustacean shellfish, sesame, soybeans. Generally, the Allergen Declaration has to be placed on the PDP or the Information Panel near the Nutrition Facts Label. 

Separately, allergens can appear either:

  • In a separate Contains statement (e.g., contains milk, sesame, and peanuts) or
  • In a parenthetical directly after the name of the ingredient within the ingredient statement (e.g., casein (milk), peanut butter (peanuts), spice (sesame))

Address and Name of the Manufacturer, Distributor, or Packer

In addition to all the above, a food package must show the name of the manufacturer, distributor, or packer, accompanied by a qualifying phrase that shows the firm’s relationship to the food product, e.g., distributed by, packed by, or manufactured for. It also has to contain the full street address. When it comes to placement, the name and address of the distributor, packer, or manufacturer usually go on the Information Paner, but it can also appear on the PDP.

Other Packaging Elements

Some additional packaging elements include nutrient content claims, barcodes, and expiration or sell-by date. The Nutrient Content Claim refers to any statement regarding a nutrient level in your food. Some examples include high-fiber, sugar-free, or low-fat. Various regulations determine what claims are valid. They must be displayed on the PDP, Information Panel, or anywhere else on the package in a font size that cannot be larger than twice the font used for the Statement of Identity. 

Please consider that if you choose to use a Nutrient Content Claim on your food package, you need to have a Nutrition Facts Panel showing those nutrients and their values. 

Another packaging element is the barcode. However, no government regulatory agency asks that your food package have a barcode. But most retail establishments will. As such, the barcode must be placed, so it does not meddle with the mandatory elements. 

Interestingly, while the European and Canadian food labeling regulations require expiry dates and “best before” for food products, the FDA food labeling requirements do not require any durable life labeling for food products, except for infant formula. But the FDA strongly supports the effort to include the “best if used by,” aiming to reduce unnecessary food waste.

In the United States, some states require best before, expiration, or sell-by dates on some foods, so you will have to check into the specific regulation for your state and food. Regarding placement, the date cannot interfere with the required labeling elements and must show the day, month, and year immediately adjacent to a descriptive phrase (sell by, best before).

Related: How Single Moms Can Start a Profitable Business for Homemade Food

What Are FDA-Compliant Packaging Materials?

When it comes to food packaging, everything that is compliant must be compliant. Printing inks and plastics used for packaging and labels fall under various regulations. The FDA only goes through the effort of approving certain types of products, such as food, pharmaceutical drugs, and medical devices. It does not approve packaging materials. 

So instead of focusing on FDA approval, you can look for FDA-compliant packaging materials. Some regulations apply to specific materials found under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and you must adhere to them in specific situations, such as if the material is going to come into contact with a food product

These materials include printing inks and medical and food-grade plastics. The printing inks used for food products are generally under a critical eye due to improper inks that may cause food safety issues and contamination. There are three main issues with non-FDA-compliant inks to look for:

  • Gas-phase transfer: when volatile ink substances interact with the air in the food packaging
  • Migration: when some or all the ink components move through the substrate
  • Invisible set-off: when ink components move from the printed side to the food-facing side of the packaging

If you are using FDA-compliant printing ink for your food package, these issues will not appear. Moreover, using compliant inks will not only help your product packaging stand out, but it will also make sure it is safe for your consumers.

Also Read: Packed Lunch Ideas

Stages of Packaging You Need to Consider in the Design Process

Everything has a life cycle, including packaging. Every step matters from the first inception of your packaging design to the moment your consumer opens it. Yet, there are some stages that every packaging goes through, and each has unique challenges. A food brand’s packaging can be divided into five separate stages:

  • Manufacturing
  • Fulfillment
  • Transportation
  • Shelf life
  • User experience

For your food brand’s packaging to be successful in the marketplace, it must be well thought-out, and every stage must be considered carefully. Some of the aspects that can impact the manufacturing process include the following:

  • The material costs
  • The material or substrate of the food packaging
  • The time it will take to fabricate the food packaging
  • Where will the packaging be manufactured
  • Whether hand or automation assembly will be utilized

Once the manufacturing process is completed, the food packaging must be filled and assembled. At this stage, you must consider whether the packaging requires a separate tray or must be filled manually or automated. Then the product must be transported to wherever it is being sold. It is critical for the food products to be protected, and whether they are transported by sea, air, or land, you need to consider transportation. 

Shelf life is another area to be considered when designing food packaging design. These must be thought of well in advance, from fragility to tamper protection. Packaging that is too fragile or intricate might easily damage a store shelf or be on display, becoming unattractive to consumers.

Ultimately, industry-leading brands know that user experience is critical to packaging. You must understand that packaging is a powerful tool for communicating with the customer. In addition to providing a safe cocoon to your food products, packaging should create an experience for the consumers. The packaging should tell a story and build customer loyalty while providing a solid return on your brand’s marketing investment.

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