FDA unveils the new Nutrition Facts label

May 23, 2016

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has finalized the new Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods with changes that aim to make it easier for consumers to make informed choices about what they’re eating. The final rule includes some major changes to the nutrients required to be listed, the way the serving sizes are written, and the label design.

Updated nutrient information
“Added sugars,” in grams and as percent Daily Value, will be included on the label. The decision to add this to the label is consistent with the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which states that people should consume no more than 10% of their total daily calories from added sugar.

“If ‘added sugars’ catches on with consumers or advocacy groups, manufacturers will have to reformulate if they are perceived to be a significant contributor to added sugars in a consumer’s diet,” said Kantha Shelke, a principal at Corvus Blue. “Will this be a boon for the artificial sweetener business? Could that have negative unintended consequences? Human physiology has not evolved with the rapid evolution in food technology and increased reliance on sugar alternatives is likely to tax our health just as the increased load of sweeteners has.”

Also changing: Vitamin D and potassium will be required on the label, while vitamins A and C will no longer be required but can be included on a voluntary basis. While continuing to require “total fat,” “saturated fat,” and “trans fat” on the label, “calories from fat” is being removed because research shows the type of fat is more important than the amount.

Daily values for nutrients like sodium, dietary fiber, and vitamin D are being updated based on newer scientific evidence from the Institute of Medicine and other reports. Daily values are reference amounts of nutrients to consume or not to exceed and are used to calculate the percent Daily Value (% DV) that manufacturers include on the label. The percent Daily Value helps consumers understand the nutrition information in the context of a total daily diet.

Serving size changes
By law, serving sizes must be based on amounts of foods and beverages that people are actually eating, not what they should be eating. How much people eat and drink has changed since the previous serving size requirements were published in 1993. For example, the reference amount used to set a serving of ice cream was previously ½ cup but is changing to ⅔ cup. The reference amount used to set a serving of soda is changing from 8 oz to 12 oz.

Package size affects what people eat. So for packages that are between one and two servings, such as a 20-oz soda or a 15-oz can of soup, the calories and other nutrients will be required to be labeled as one serving because people typically consume it in one sitting.

For certain products that are larger than a single serving but that could be consumed in one sitting or multiple sittings, manufacturers will have to provide “dual column” labels to indicate the amount of calories and nutrients on both a “per serving” and “per package”/“per unit” basis. Examples would be a 24-oz bottle of soda or a pint of ice cream.

Redesigned label
In addition to new requirements about what information will be provided on the label, the label itself has been redesigned to ensure consumers can more quickly and easily understand the data on the labels. These changes include:

  1. Increasing the type size for “calories,” “servings per container,” and the “serving size” declaration.
  2. Bolding the type for the number of calories and the serving size declaration.
  3. The actual amount of the mandatory vitamins and minerals will be listed, in addition to their percent Daily Value.
  4. Adding “Includes X g Added Sugars” directly beneath the listing for “Total Sugars.”
  5. Changing the footnote to better explain the percent Daily Value. It will now read: “*The % Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.”

Shelke notes that is interesting that the FDA “retained far more of the original/current format than what they proposed.” Indeed, the look and feel is not that different from the current format and therefore Shelke believes should “come across as far less radical or shocking” to consumers.

The final rule becomes effective on July 26, 2016, and the compliance date is July 26, 2018, for manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales and July 26, 2019, for manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales.

With two or three years to adhere to the new rule, it is time for food manufacturers to look closely at their product portfolio. “There are opportunities to renovate and innovate,” said Robert Post, senior director of nutrition and regulatory affairs at Chobani. “For some, like Chobani, it will be easier to highlight the nutrients they provide in the context of the Dietary Guidelines recommendations without any need for reformulating. For other companies, there’s an impetus to rethink their food from the perspective of how it’s marketed and used by consumers, their recommended portions and frequency of consumption, and the demands that are driving consumer choices today. At the end of this assessment, it could be that many manufacturers create updated versions of their established brands.”

Consumers can expect not only the Nutrition Facts label to change, but perhaps also the claims made on the front-of-pack. “Nutrient content claims and health claims will also be impacted by these changes,” explained Elizabeth Braithwaite, research and content manager, ESHA Research. “We understand that nutrient content and health claims are slated to be reviewed now that the new labeling regulations are out, so more information is coming in this area.”

Post will be a speaker in a live IFT webcast—“Nutrition Facts Panel: Overview of Final Rules Webcast”—taking place on June 3, at 9 a.m. CDT, in which he and Bill Layden, partner at FoodMinds, will highlight the major changes in the final rule. In addition, Post will be a presenter at IFT16’s pre-event short course—“Labeling Requirements and Implications for Food Marketed in the U.S.”—taking place July 15–16 in Chicago. This course will provide attendees with the foundation needed to examine the legal naming of a food product, list its ingredients, present its nutritional details, and make claims related to nutrient content, health effects, and production method. Learn more and register today.

Press release

Califf and Mayne comments

Federal Register final rule (pdf)

Federal Register notice on serving size (pdf)

IFT Nutrition Facts Panel webcast

IFT labeling short course