The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, which went into effect in 1994, empowered the Food and Drug Administration to require food manufacturers and suppliers to apply nutrition labels and other nutrient-related claims in accordance with federal regulations. Prior to this act, there was widespread confusion and inconsistency regarding accurate label information. Regulators enacted this new set of standards to not only persuade food manufacturers to make healthier products, but to encourage consumers to make better food choices as well.
While the NLEA is beneficial for consumers buying packaged foods in grocery stores, it does not apply to food sold in restaurants. This changed with the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010, which required any restaurant chain with more than 20 locations to showcase their food's calorie content.
Though calories are important for consumers wanting to make healthy choices, this act also contained a clause that mandates the labeling of other pertinent nutritious information. The FDA and other federal regulators have worked diligently to bring light to labeling in the food manufacturing industry to support consumers and create greater sector-wide visibility.
How important is labeling in food manufacturing?
The vast majority of consumers compare food prices in restaurants and grocery stores, while many inspect and compare the food nutrition labels as well. Whether for dietary or health reasons, because of certain legislation, such as the NLEA, consumers are now more empowered than ever to know what they are eating and how it will benefit them.
"The food label is one of the most valuable tools consumers have," Barbara Schneeman, former director of the FDA's Office of Nutrition, Labeling and Dietary Supplements, explained. "The food label gives consumers the power to compare foods quickly and easily so they can judge for themselves which products best fit their dietary needs."
Food nutrition labels give consumers the power to make better choices and count their calories or reduce their sodium intake. These labels also are a way for the FDA to ensure that whatever products sold and monitored by the agency are safe and properly labeled. As the obesity rate continues to climb each year, it is more important than ever for the American people to pay attention to these important nutrition labels.
How are food manufacturers helping consumers make healthier choices?
According to recent figures, 68.6 percent of American adults and 31.8 percent of children and teenagers are overweight or obese. While the goal of food nutrition labeling is to promote nationwide healthy choices, the International Food Information Council presented research at the World Congress on Public Health Nutrition in 2008, stating that food labels might not be as effective as they could be.
"68.6 percent of adults and 31.8 percent of children and teenagers are overweight or obese."
"There's a lot of confusion about nutrition, period," Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, the director of Health and Nutrition for IFIC, revealed. "Consumers are confused overall about what they should be eating, and most consumers bring prior information and perceptions with them when evaluating food and beverage products."
One of the biggest sources of confusion in recent years is the importance of "natural," "organic" or "healthy" food labels. While most consumers believe that the terms natural and organic equate to healthier food options, this is not always the case. The FDA defines natural as a food product that does not contain artificial or synthetic ingredients. Meanwhile, organic foods are monitored by the Department of Agriculture and indicates how the food was grown or produced.
While both can be beneficial for consumers, food with the term healthy means that the product meets the required criteria for various nutritional content, such as sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol and vitamins and minerals. Essentially, just because a product is labeled organic or natural, this label does not mean that the product itself is healthy. For instance, a frozen dinner could be technically organic, but contain high amounts of sodium.
Certain food manufacturers, such as Mars Food, which owns popular brands like Uncle Ben's, have taken healthy food labeling into their own hands. The Belgium-based food manufacturer launched its Health and Wellbeing Ambition initiative, which will redesign some of its food packaging to indicate whether the food is recommended for "occasional" use, rather than everyday consumption. They will also include healthier recipes to promote better cooking habits, according to Packaging Digest.
At Stranco, we supply a wide range of thermal transfer labels and other labeling options for a wide variety of industries. From food manufacturers seeking ways to promote healthier products to medical device manufacturers striving to save lives, our custom label solutions meet a variety of labeling applications needs. Contact us today to learn more about our products and services!