Determining which Labeling Regulations Apply to your Product

Navigating federal, state, and local regs.

November 29, 2023

When it comes to food labeling in the United States, there’s a mix of regulations at the federal, state, and local levels that brands must follow, depending on the type of food or beverage product they sell. 

To help you understand this multifaceted regulatory landscape, this article provides an overview of the key agencies and regulations related to food labeling and outlines the steps for deciding which requirements apply to you.

Federal Labeling Regulations

At the federal level, there are two main agencies that regulate food labels: FDA and USDA.

The FDA is responsible for overseeing the labeling of most food products under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and labeling regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 21, Part 101. This includes most packaged foods sold at retail stores and general food labeling requirements like ingredient lists, allergen declarations, and Nutrition Facts panels.

Some key FDA labeling rules:

  • Nutrition Labeling requirements for packaged foods
  • Allergen labeling for packaged foods
  • General principles for food labeling like prominence, language, format
  • Nutrient content and health claims
  • Menu labeling requirements for restaurants and retail food establishments with 20 or more locations

The USDA regulates labeling for meat, poultry, and egg products under the Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, and the Egg Products Inspection Act. Foods containing 2% or more of meat/poultry must follow USDA labeling rules.

State and Local Labeling Regulations

In addition to federal labeling oversight, states and local jurisdictions may impose their own labeling rules such as menu, nutritional, and allergen labeling for restaurants and labeling requirements for certain food establishments like bakeries and delis. 

Companies need to be aware of any state or city labeling regulations that apply on top of federal requirements. Additionally, remember that even if a packaged food is produced and sold in the same state, and the manufacturer is exempt from registering as an FDA food facility, that food still must comply with any applicable federal labeling requirements. For example, a packaged food sold at retail stores may need to comply with FDA as well as state and local labeling rules. 

Which Regulations Apply to My Product?

The decision tree below can help you figure out step-by-step which regulations apply, based on factors such as product type, where it’s sold, and how it’s distributed. Walking through each of the questions outlined below will help guide you to the right regulations for your specific product. 

Always confirm these requirements by consulting the applicable regulations or requesting an opinion from a regulatory expert. And for situations that fall into a gray area, brands should evaluate their labeling needs case by case.

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