What are the legal requirements for food packaging?

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With the passage of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 and the Fair Package and Labeling Act of 1966, food packaging and labels were transformed to prevent fraud or deception when consumers make a purchase.

All packaged foods are subject to these laws, and noncompliance can result in large fines or a halt in food production.

Nutritional Information

The law requires that all food products contain an approved nutritional label on food packaging. The labels are standardised by the government for easy reading. Calories, fat content, sugar and carbohydrates are just some of the nutritional statements required on packaged foods. Additional information may be included as well, including vitamins, minerals, fibre, calcium and caffeine content. Nutrition labels acknowledge the amounts of these nutritional components, as well as their corresponding percentages of the recommended daily value set forth by the FDA based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Ingredients and Origination

All packaged foods must list each ingredient used in the product. While food manufacturers do not have to disclose the amounts of each ingredient or the preparation process, they are required to list each ingredient, including any additives or preservatives, in order, beginning with the most used ingredient and ending with the ingredient used the least. Additionally, manufacturers must disclose the products origination, or the location where it is produced.

Dating and Storage

The dates stamped on food packaging are known as "open dating." Surprisingly, open dating is only required on infant formula packaging. Other products often comply with this practice, implementing use by, sell by and expiration dates to guide consumers when purchasing and preparing food. While federal law does not require open dating in most circumstances, those manufacturers who use it must accompany the date with both a month and date, along with an explanation phrase for the date such as, "use by" or "sell by." Some state laws do require the use of open dating.

Batch Number

Batch numbers are used for recall purposes. Food packaging must contain a batch number to help identify other related products and their locations in case of a product recall. Batch numbers are more often used by the food manufacturer and the retailer rather than the consumer.


All allergens associated with a packaged food product must be acknowledged in plain view on a food label. This only applies to frequently known food allergens, as any food can trigger an allergic reaction. Examples of known food allergens include soy, peanuts, dairy and shellfish. Manufacturers not only have to state these allergens on the packaging if the product contains one or more of them, but they must also disclose if the product was manufactured in a plant where the product could have come in contact with an allergen.