Some foods follow voluntary food labeling because they are exempt from mandatory nutrition labeling, including raw fruits, vegetables, fish, and single-ingredient raw meat and poultry. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) created a voluntary nutrition information program to help consumers make informed purchasing decisions that reflect their dietary needs. Retail stores can convey this information in a variety of ways -- brochure, poster, leaflet, notebook, stickers, or on the individually packaged food -- as long as the materials are available in the appropriate food department.
The FDA first established guidelines for voluntary nutrition information in 1991 and then amended them in 2006 by updating the names and nutrition labeling values for the 20 most frequently eaten raw fruits, vegetables, and fish. The information provided includes serving size, calories per serving, and nutrient values similar to those found on standard nutrition labels. For fish, the information is based on 3 ounces of cooked product. The effective date for these amendments is January 1, 2008.
The 1993 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ruling on the labeling of meat and poultry products allows single-ingredient raw meat and poultry products, such as raw chicken breasts, raw beef roasts, ground beef, and ground poultry, to be labeled on a voluntary basis. The nutrition information needs to be on the product label or posted close to the counter where these items are displayed. The regulations also state that if volunteer participation by retailers or manufacturers drops below 60 percent, the USDA has the right to require nutrition labeling on these products.
In January 2001, the USDA proposed mandatory nutrition labeling for major cuts of raw meat and poultry and for packages of ground or chopped meat and poultry. Some exemptions for small businesses would apply. For the major cuts of meat and poultry, the nutrition information could be provided on the package or near the point of purchase, such as on posters or in brochures, leaflets, or notebooks. For ground or chopped meat or poultry, the nutrition labeling would need to be on the product package. A final rule on this proposal has not yet been issued.
The terminology used on food labels can often be confusing. See the next page for a chart that explains the meanings behind many common labels.
For more information about nutritious eating, see:
- Eating Healthy: A balanced diet that includes a variety of foods is great for maintaining good health. Find out which food choices work best in a healthy eating plan.
- Low Cholesterol Diet: Eating a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet is the best way to reduce your cholesterol and your risk of coronary heart disease. Explore the dietary choices that can help you lower your cholesterol.
- Weight Loss: For many people, weight loss is an important goal. Explore the different methods of losing weight, and see which can work for you.