Food manufacturers who have created labels for their food products before will likely tell you they learned a lot of information they didn’t really need to know in the end. Hours spent perusing the FDA’s website and reading up on every little detail about food labeling seems necessary when you’ve never made a food label before, but that’s actually not the case.
If you are a first-time food manufacturer who is about to move into the labeling phase for your product, you’re undoubtedly busy and likely don’t have all the time in the world to spend scrolling through lengthy FDA documents. Luckily, you don’t have to. While it will indeed help to have certain information going into the food labeling process, you can focus on the most important food labeling basics. This way, you can get started—and finished—with the food labeling process as quickly as possible.
Food Labeling Basics: Four Key Steps
Before we jump into each of the top four components of food labels, it is important to let go of the notion that food labeling has to be complex, time-consuming, or expensive. Many food manufacturers have told me they went into the process expecting it to be super complicated, only to end up creating more work for themselves because they thought it should be a lot of work. If you think of it as an easy, affordable, and relatively quick process, then it’s much more likely that food labeling will be a breeze.
With that in mind, let’s look at the four main elements of the food label you need to obtain:
Barcodes: Barcodes are often the thing that gets forgotten in the food labeling process, but getting a barcode on your product is an important step. If you plan to sell your product in retail stores or if you use a distributor, you will definitely need UPC barcodes. I recommend using a online service like Simply Barcodes to obtain your barcodes because it is quick and easy. In fact, the turnaround time is only about an hour, so you’ll have a lot more time to spend on the other parts of your label.
Ingredients List: The FDA has specific guidelines for the ingredient list which essentially boil down to making sure they appear in a particular order. The ingredients that contribute the most weight to the product will appear first, with the list concluding with the ingredient that has the least amount of weight. You also have to make sure that if any ingredient has sub-ingredients (i.e. chocolate = cocoa, cocoa butter, sugar, soy lecithin), they too are listed in descending order. In addition, if you use any chemical food additives, they must be listed by their common name and the function they serve (i.e. sodium benzoate to preserve freshness).
Allergen Statement: If your product contains one or more of the eight major allergens [link to major allergen article when live] (wheat, milk, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, and eggs), then you must contain a statement after your ingredient list that lets consumers know that food is present. It can be something as simple as “contains peanuts,” and it should be in bold font. What’s great is that online nutrition analysis software like LabelCalc will flag the allergens in your recipe so you can easily include all of them in your allergen statement. That way, you don’t have to worry about forgetting one!
Nutrition Facts Panel: People often think of the nutrition facts panel as being the most daunting aspect of food labeling, but with online nutrition analysis software, it is actually incredibly easy. The FDA has very specific guidelines for the nutrition facts panel, including which nutrients it should contain, what the dimensions are, and what size the font needs to be. However, a quality FDA-compliant online nutrition analysis software will do most of the work for you. Once you enter your recipe, serving size, and servings per container, the nutrition information will automatically be filled into an FDA-compliant nutrition facts panel. You are even able to choose different formats, depending on your needs.
Other Food Labeling Info You May Need
While the above information should be more than enough to get started on your food labeling journey, sometimes questions come up during the process. If this happens, I recommend working with an expert food labeling consultant who knows the ins and outs of the industry and can help ensure your food label is perfect. Not only will this save you a ton of time, but it also provides you with a sense of reassurance that an expert has laid eyes on your label. It’s always nice to know that someone has your back, especially if all this food labeling business is new to you.
Along with an expert consultant, remember that using a reputable online nutrition analysis software to create your ingredient list, allergen statement, and nutrition facts panel is the quickest, easiest, and most affordable way to get the job done. Plus, if you choose a software that has a partnership with a barcode company, you can get a discount and save yourself the time of searching the web for a reputable company. That way, you’ll be one step closer to getting your product on retail shelves for people to enjoy.