The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) efforts as of late have been focused on safety in the packaging and processing of food products and on information for the consumer. While these two areas of interest are hardly rare for the agency, the introduction of a couple of new pieces of legislation could require some significant changes in the packaging, processing and labeling of food products in the near future.
In 2011, the FDA passed the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA). As of the beginning of 2014, some areas of the FSMA are still open for interpretation. In general, the FDA is requiring makers and packagers of food to ensure that those who supply them with components of food are following certain guidelines. This is being done to ensure that a safe and sanitary process is being used not only by the maker or packager, but by all of those involved in the supply chain.
Some confusion, though, surrounds the definition of food, where the legal definition includes contact materials. This, in turn, could pull more than just food suppliers – vendors like packaging machinery manufacturers or cap, bottle and box suppliers – within the reach of the legislation. Though the FSMA appears to place the burden of setting up a safe and sanitary production process, this is not exactly spelled out in the Act. However, as long as food packagers and their vendors and suppliers work together to create product specific packaging lines, even a vague definition may not create too much turmoil.
But while food packagers and the industries that serve them await clarification on the FSMA, the FDA has turned their sites to the actual package that holds the food, or more specifically the nutrition label on that package. Suggestions for a nutrition label makeover have just moved from the FDA to the White House for approval. Unlike the FSMA, no changes have been made law as of yet, food packaging but just like the FSMA, food packagers are left wondering exactly what will be expected of them should the FDA adopt new guidelines.
Some expected changes include more focus or a more prominent display of the calorie count, a more clear picture of a serving size, moving away from gram measurements, additional or extended information on sugar and wheat and a possible move for the nutrition label to the front of the package. Given the trend toward healthy eating, it is surprising that this is the first makeover of the nutrition label since it was first introduced in the 1990s.
So why the change now? Generally speaking, our understanding of nutrition has changed quite a bit since the nutrition label was first introduced. As that understanding changes, the nutrition label must reflect any new information discovered to avoid becoming a useless box of numbers and percentages. As more and more Americans focus on getting and staying healthy, the nutrition label on food packages can be used as a tool if the correct, and helpful, information is displayed.
At the time of this writing, things are pretty much business as usual for food packagers and industry vendors. While changes to both packages and the packaging process can not be far off, the extent of those changes remains to be clearly defined.