The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act was implemented in 1990 in an effort to standardize food labeling procedures and to ensure that adequate nutritional information was passed along to the consumer. As explained by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, each label must contain specific information in a specific format to ensure continuity and ease of interpretation. All packaged food products must contain these labels, even if they are imported.
Each label must contain the name of the product, the name and contact information of the producer or manufacturer of the product and the size of the product.
Disclosure of Ingredients
Each nutritional label must contain a full disclosure of the ingredients in descending order by weight or predominance. Therefore, the ingredient used the most will be listed first. If water is an element in the product then it too must be listed. The exact location of the ingredient disclosure is not specifically mandated as long as the information is present and clearly legible.
Every package must clearly identify the size of a serving and the number of approximate servings per package. Therefore, the nutritional break down will be listed based on amount per serving, not on amount per package.
The nutritional information contained on the label must clearly identify the per serving values for calories, total fat including saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates as well as dietary fiber and sugars, and protein. In addition, the common vitamins A, C, iron and calcium must have per serving values assigned to them as well. Other vitamins should be on the label if the product makes a claim about that vitamin or nutrient, according to the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. If there are other vitamins present they may also be identified on the label but that is optional. Riboflavin, thiamine and niacin are required to be listed on labels for enriched flour.
According to the FDA, the nutritional label must also contain the Percentage of Daily Values. This is a chart representing the per-serving nutritional value based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet. Some labels include information based on a 2,500 calorie a day diet as well. These percentages can be shown adjacent to the actual nutritional breakdown, or listed at the bottom of the label.
Low fat, cholesterol-free and reduced calorie are all nutritional claims that need to be backed up by the nutritional label on the package. The problem is that the variety of health claims are not specifically explained on the label. Low fat means no more than 3 grams of fat per serving, yet the label can claim to be Low Fat without giving a specific definition to that claim. The definitions to these claims can be found on literature produced by the FDA.