In FDA regulations, Food labeling
Wondering how to use the term "healthy" on your food label?

Wondering how to use the term “healthy” on your food label? Photo credit: Flickr user U.S. Department of Agriculture.

One of the biggest challenges of being a food manufacturer is complying with the countless FDA guidelines, rules, and regulations about labeling your food products. This is especially true now, as the FDA is in the process of rolling out new guidelines based on recent nutritional findings. As part of these changes, the FDA is creating new standards for using the term “healthy” on food products, much like they have with the popular “natural” designation. After all, the existing regulations, which were established in 1993, are grossly outdated.

So what’s a food manufacturer to do while the FDA writes new regulations on what constitutes a “healthy” food product, especially since parts of the existing regulations are no longer valid? The FDA has released a set of interim guidelines while they work on a new definition of “healthy.” If you are a food manufacturer who is currently using or wants to use this commercially viable term on your food product label, here’s what you need to know.

The FDA’s Current Definition of “Healthy”

Over the past two decades, the term “healthy” could be used on food labels if the product had less fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium than a limit set by the FDA. Certain levels of vitamins and minerals also had to be present in the food for it to gain “healthy” status. But in the past two decades, nutritional science has evolved greatly, and what was once deemed healthy is now being questioned.

For now, the FDA has issued a document that addresses the two main changes in this definition. The first regards fat. In the past, fat has always been seen as a harmful substance, but now nutritional science is differentiating between beneficial fats and unhealthy fats. Thus, food products that qualify as “healthy” no longer need to be low in total fat—rather, the fat content must be mostly comprised of mono and polyunsaturated fats. If the presence of mono and polyunsaturated fats is the basis of using the term “healthy” (ie. your label reads “healthy trail mix—a good source of mono and polyunsaturated fats”) then you must include the amounts of each of these fats on your nutrition facts panel.

The second change deals with nutrient content. While vitamin A and C deficiencies were once a concern for the American public, nutrients like Vitamin D and potassium are now becoming the focus. Therefore, the FDA is recommending that food products using the “healthy” label contain at least 10% of the daily recommended intake (DV per RACC) of potassium and vitamin D. Again, you must make sure the amounts of these nutrients are included on your label.

In addition to these two new changes, the FDA still requires that a food product labeled as “healthy” contains no more than 4.0 grams of saturated fat, 60 mg of cholesterol, and 480 mg of sodium per serving.

Because the FDA is still working on defining “healthy,” it is important to note that these guidelines are not yet “legally enforceable.” This means that they are in place for now and are meant to be taken as suggestions while the FDA works on more long-term regulations. That being said, keep in mind that any labeling that misleads the public—whether it is legally enforceable or not—is not tolerated, and legal action can be taken against any company who is seen as misrepresenting their product.

Keeping Your Product Label Current

While the FDA guidelines for using the term “healthy” are changing, we are still unsure when we can expect the new “legally enforceable” regulations. What we do know is that the new guidelines will take into account public and industry opinion. In March of 2017, the FDA held a public meeting on the matter and set a deadline of April 2017 for feedback and comments.

As a food manufacturer, it is important to stay informed of these impending changes so you can ensure your label corresponds with the latest regulations. Here on the LabelCalc blog, we keep you current with articles about the latest FDA news, and our resources page walks you through FDA-compliant food labeling essentials. Our users also get the latest labeling updates sent right to their inboxes, and our professional consultants are always available to help determine how FDA rules and regulations pertain to your specific food product.

It can be challenging to comply with all the guidelines the FDA sets out, especially when they are in the process of changing. However, don’t let these complexities stop you from making the best decisions for your food product. Consumer trends are showing us that “healthy” food is more in-demand than ever and will likely only grow in popularity as nutritional science evolves and the public becomes more informed about food. When used correctly, a label that identifies a product as “healthy” can be an incredible marketing tool for food manufacturers.

At LabelCalc, our web-based nutritional analysis and label-making software make creating your product labels a breeze. Contact us today to learn how our software and consultants can help your business.

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