By: Stephanie Harris, Chief Regulatory Officer, Food Marketing Institute
Every time I walk into a grocery store, I always appreciate food retailers’ ability to fill their shelves with safe, affordable and quality foods on a daily basis given the complexities of our global supply chain. The almost-ripe banana that I purchased last week traveled hundreds of miles before hitting my local store’s produce shelf at its appropriate ripening stage, and it cost me less than a quarter. As someone who works on regulatory labeling issues on a regular basis, I know that this is no small feat not only because of the supply chain costs, but food retailers face a laundry list of labeling requirements for the food products that they sell.
These labeling requirements include product identity information, such as the ability to call my tasty dessert “ice cream” or the cheese atop my burger “cheddar cheese,” all of which are set by federal standards of identity from FDA and USDA. There are also varying types of labeling needs for food products depending on whether they are “packaged” or “unpackaged.” Even that banana that I bought last week is subject to country of origin labeling requirements to inform customers and others about where it was grown.
The types of labeling requirements for food retailers includes many other important aspects, such as the nutrition information, the list of ingredients, including identifying the major eight food allergens, and safe handling instructions for certain types of meat and poultry products. To help food retailers keep up with the many food labeling regulations on the books, FMI recently updated its Practical Food Labeling Law for Retailers guide, available via FMI’s Store. Our guide was updated to include new labeling regulations, such as FDA’s menu labeling requirement (compliance date: May 2018) and FDA’s updated Nutrition Facts Label, which most food manufacturers must switch to by January 2020.
I also encourage member companies to listen to our recently hosted “Food Labeling 101 for Retailers” webinar to hear from our outside counsel about basic labeling requirements for foods sold in grocery stores. We will be hosting a follow-up more advanced “Labeling 201” webinar in the weeks ahead.
In Washington’s politically charged environment, it’s tempting to stay away from the use of labels, but for the food retail industry, correct and effective food labeling is important for so many reasons. For additional labeling needs, please visit FMI's Labeling industry topics page.