food labels on tomato sauce

The Ultimate FDA Food Labeling Guide

Food labels help consumers make informed choices about their purchases. They provide important information about products such as nutritional content, manufacturing dates, health claims, and more. Such information helps customers decide whether to buy a particular food product, which is why brands put a lot of effort into creating labels that draw attention and help consumers make the right choice.

But not all labels are created equally. Some have more information than others, but the essential data should always be present (e.g., the Nutritional Facts panel for packaged products).

Custom labels offer more than product information. Food companies print labels to promote their businesses. With a thoughtfully executed design, custom label printing can help businesses entice more customers to buy their products.

Give customers a taste of what’s to come by creating eye-catching customized labels that follow the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines. In this guide, we talk about the FDA requirements for food labels as well as how brands can print labels to attract more customers.

What are the FDA’s requirements in a food label?

sample labels with FDA requirements
The SOI is formatted in bold letters and in a size that’s reasonably proportioned to the rest of the PDP. It is also parallel to the base of the package. The net quantity shows customary and metric units.

Over the years, the FDA has revised its Food Labeling Guide to address questions about what should go into a food label. The downloadable guide (more than 100 pages long) contains a list of items that food producers need to consider before printing their custom food labels.

With the extensive information provided, reading every rule can be overwhelming. To help better understand these guidelines, here is a summary of the basics of FDA food labeling.

In food labels, each element is classified under three different groups: The Front Panel or the Principal Display Panel, the Information Panel, and the Rear Panel.

Front Panel/Principal Display Panel (PDP) – This is what the customer first sees in the packaging.

Required FDA Elements in the PDP:
  • Statement of Identity or SOI
  • Net quantity of contents

Information Panel – This contains necessary information about the food product that buyers should know.

Required FDA Elements:
  • Ingredient statement (can also be found in the PDP)
  • Allergen statement
  • Packer’s, distributor’s, or manufacturer’s information (can also be in the PDP)

Rear Panel – This part shows information about the nutrients, macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals the food item or product contains.

Required FDA Element
  • Nutrition Facts

Front Panel/ Principal Display Panel (PDP)

The principal display panel is what customers immediately see on their first interaction with your product. In some products, the display panel can be seen on more than one side. This is called the alternate PDP. To ensure that customers are getting the right product, the PDP and alternate PDP should have the following elements:

  • Statement of Identity (SOI) - This is the legal or common name of your product (e.g., parmesan cheese) and is different from the brand name. If a product is marketed in different forms (e.g., whole, sliced, or grated), the form should be included in the custom labels as in grated parmesan cheese. The FDA does not allow labeling food with a new name if it already has an established identity.
  • Net Quantity - Net quantity is the amount of food inside the package. It is displayed in both customary and metric units (e.g., Net wt. 1 lb. or 453 g) except for foods with random weights or packed in retail stores. Quantity declaration is found on the lower third of the PDP in the following type heights as determined by the FDA:

Type Height Principal Display Panel (PDP) Area
1/16” (1.6 mm) 5 sq. in. (32 sq. cm.) or less
1/8” (3.2 mm) More than 5 sq. in. (32 sq. cm.) but not more than 25 sq. in. (161 sq. cm.)
3/16” (4.8 mm) More than 25 sq. in. (161 sq. cm.) but not more than 100 sq. in. (645 sq. cm.)
1/4" (6.4 mm) More than 100 sq. in. (645 sq. cm.) but not more than 400 sq. in. (2,580 sq. cm.)
1/2" (12.7 mm) Over 400 sq. in. (2,580 sq. cm.)

Information Panel

The information panel is found at the right side of the PDP (facing the customer). It contains information such as the name and address of the manufacturer or distributor, as well as the following:

  • Ingredient Statement - The ingredient statement is found alongside the manufacturer’s information and nutritional facts panel. Ingredients are listed by their common names (e.g., “sugar” not “sucrose”) and in descending order of weight. The type size for the ingredient statement should be at least 1/6” or 1.6 mm tall and should be legible.
  • Allergen Statement - According to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Action (FALCPA), food labels must display the “big eight” allergens in the packaging. These allergens include egg, milk, nuts, shellfish, and more. The allergen could be listed in parentheses next to the ingredient. For example, whey (milk). Alternatively, the allergen may be listed after the ingredient statement.
  • Manufacturer’s Information – This includes the name of the manufacturer and address listed in the current telephone directory under the responsible party name. If the manufacturer is not the responsible party, include a qualifying phrase that shows the company’s relationship to the product (e.g., distributed by).

Rear Panel

The rear panel is where nutritional information about the food product is found. This is beneficial to readers who want to maintain a healthy diet.

  • Nutrition Facts – Nutritional facts list the serving size, calorie information, nutrient amounts, and Daily Value (DV) of food. While there is no specific size requirement, the Nutrition Facts header must have a type size that’s bigger than the other prints in the custom label. The FDA requires a type size of at least 6 pts. for other information in the label. See changes to the Nutrition Facts Label.

    nutrition facts components

    Nutrition Facts Components:

    1. Serving Information – This indicates the number of servings in the package and how much the serving size is.
    2. Calories – This shows the total number of calories that a single serving provides.
    3. Nutrients – This is where the key nutrients that affect your health are found. This component gives readers an insight into what nutrients they need to get less of, the added sugars, and what nutrients they need to add to meet the FDA’s recommended dietary allowance.
    4. Quick Guide to Percent Daily Value – This explains how to the reader how to interpret the percent daily value of each nutrient in the food and how much the nutrient’s percentage contributes to one’s daily personal diet.

Additional Packaging Elements

Aside from the required basic components in food labeling, here are other elements to consider:

  • Barcode – There's no government regulatory agency that requires a barcode. However, there are retail establishments that do. Barcodes should be in a spot in the label that doesn’t obstruct other required elements.
  • Expiration, Best Before, or Sell-By Date – Dates are required on some food products in some states. Remember to do your research to know if your state requires it.
  • Nutrient Content Claims – This refers to any phrase or statement about a certain nutrient in your food. Some examples are: sugar-free, high fiber, and low fat. The validity of these claims depends on state regulations.

    Claims can also be displayed anywhere else on the package like the PDP or the Information Panel. Its font size shouldn’t be twice as large as the Statement of Identity or SOI.

    When adding a Nutrient Content Claim, it’s important to show the specific nutrient and its value in the Nutrition Facts Panel.

FDA Food Label Requirements Exemptions

Sometimes there are instances when Nutrition Facts are exempted. Here are some examples:

  • If you’re selling raw food products such as fruits, vegetables, or fish
  • If there’s a low volume of food products (this should be declared in the FDA in paper)
  • If your food sales are less than $50,000 or less than $500,000 in total
  • If the food product’s required nutrients are a small amount (can be listed as zero)
  • If the entire surface area dedicated for labeling the food packaging is less than 12 sq. in.

Looking for more resources on product labels? Take a look at these articles!

Label Sizes

How to Choose the Correct Label Size

This article guide helps you learn two foolproof ways to measure the correct label size for your product.

Different Food Labels

An Easy Guide to Understanding Food Labels

Make sure that your food labels come with all the necessary and required information such as serving information, nutrient claims, best before dates, and more.

Label Types and Materials

How to Choose the Right Label

This guide will help you decide the right type of label material, size, and shape that works for your product or application.