This article is part of a 5-part series on food labels on The University of Texas’ Nutrition Department’s Blog.
Food labels, as detailed in previous posts, have had a long history with change demanded by consumers while remaining highly recognizable. Despite new changes anticipated in the overall appearance and information on the nutrition facts panel, many additional labels have popped up over the years in accordance with health safety laws and consumer demand: Ingredient Statements, Food Allergen Warnings, and Front of Package nutrition labels.
Directly below the nutrition facts, one can find a list of all the ingredients contained in that particular food product. As mandated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Ingredients Statement must list ingredients by weight in descending order. Take for example bread. When choosing bread, consumers have the choice of “multi-grain,” “9-grain,” “wheat,” “honey wheat,” “100% wheat,” “whole wheat” or even “white wheat,” but which one of these breads is the whole wheat product recommended by health professionals? A sure way to determine if a bread product is truly whole wheat is to look at the ingredients statement. To be a whole wheat bread, the first ingredient must be whole wheat flour. If the first ingredient is anything other than “whole wheat flour,” it is not a truly whole wheat bread.
Allergen Food Warnings
Another feature of a food label is the allergen statement. In America, food-related allergic reactions have significantly increased in both the child and adult populations, especially during the 21st century. More than ever before, allergic reactions are responsible for visits to the emergency room (CDC, 2010). As a result, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) responded with the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. The act made changes to the Ingredient Statement, mandating the inclusion of a clear, bold-faced warning to confirm the presence of any of the top eight food allergens:
- Tree nuts
The Food Allergens Act aimed to make the presence of allergens clear to consumers. While allergens were always included on the ingredients’ list, the new changes mean industry-specific names for food will now be accompanied by their more recognizable names, denoted in parentheses. For example, whenever whey is present in a product it will appear as “whey (milk).” The combination of including the common name of allergens in the ingredient list and the bold-type warning of allergens contained in the product hopes to eliminates confusion around possible food allergies in commercial food products.
Front of Package Nutrition Labels
In an effort to make nutrition information as transparent as the presence of allergens on food packaging, Facts Up Front, a voluntary initiative led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, pushed for food companies to place an abbreviated nutritional panel on the front of their packaging in addition to the standard nutritional facts panel. The idea is to present sought-after information – such as calories, fat, sodium, and sugar amounts – in a more direct way than the expanded facts panel on the back. Certain snack companies, such as leading snack company, Nabisco, have begun using these front of package nutrition information on their labeling. This voluntary inclusion of nutrition information often raises another question of what is exactly allowed to be included on food labels. In our next installment of in the factual food label series, we will focus on health claims made on food packaging, and their history from unsound to highly regulated.
For more information on food labels and nutrition facts, see our previous post on the history of food labels.
“Visits to the Emergency Department Increase Nationwide.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 Jan. 2010, www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/02news/emergency.htm.