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Nutrition Labeling of Foods

FDA vs. the USDA - You need to know the differences


Updated September 07, 2012

Most people know that FDA are the initials for the federal Food and Drug Administration. The FDA oversees nutrition and safety issues for most food and beverages. Most, but not all.

FSIS are the initials of the federal Food Safety and Inspection Service. FSIS oversees nutrition and safety issues for meat and poultry, and for products that contain them. FSIS inspectors cover facilities that prepare meat and poultry products and inspect on a full or part-time basis.

There is a mathematical line that divides the responsibilities of the agencies. Actually there are two. If a product has more than two percent cooked meat, or three percent raw meat, it is overseen by the FSIS. If less than these percentages, it is an FDA food.

Similar products could be under different jurisdictions. Pork and beans

or spaghetti sauce with meat are examples of products that may have more or less than two percent cooked meat. On a case by case basis, the FSIS

will sometimes exempt products from its supervision, and defer to the FDA.


The FSIS requires that labels for most products be submitted to the agency for approval prior to use USDA Label Approval Submission System

This requirement may be waived for certain small changes and for products that are classified as generic. The agency reports that it annually reviews approximately 60,000 new labels.

A food manufacturer, formulating a new product that is under FDA supervision, develops its own label for the product and uses it without the need for FDA approval. The FDA does not approve labels, or even the nutrition information on labels.

If there are errors, the FDA may choose to critique the label after it appears on a product, or if competitors and/or consumers file complaints.


In 2006 two nutrition labeling laws went into effect, both pertaining to foods overseen by the FDA.

One of these requires that the presence of allergens be stated with the list of ingredients. There are eight specific food allergens that are designated in the regulations.

The FSIS has guidance concerning Allergen Labeling Information .

The guidance begins by saying the allergen labeling regulations do not apply to meat and poultry products. Then it says that allergen labeling is voluntary for products under FSIS supervision. The agency encourages companies that manufacturer meat and poultry products to include allergen labeling as part of the nutrition labeling.

It concludes by indicating that if there is not substantial voluntary comp-liance with allergen labeling regulations, the FSIS may propose rules to make compliance mandatory.

It appears that the packaging of most processed meat and poultry products contains allergen information.. But it is surprising that this is voluntary for FSIS foods.

The other 2006 change was the addition of trans fat to the Nutrition Facts panel. As with allergens it is voluntary for FSIS foods.

FSIS does not actively encourage trans fat labeling. Few raw meat products have it. However trans fat labeling is on the packaging of most processed foods containing meat or poultry.

Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil is the source of trans fat in most FDA foods. The trans fat legislation was introduced to make consumers aware of the presence of this type of oil.

The trans fat that naturally occurs in beef fat is the primary source of trans fat in FSIS foods. This trans fat is not regarded as a public health concern.

When applicable, the FSIS requires that both a handling statement and safe handling instructions appear on product packages. These requirements are considered necessary due to the perishable nature of most FSIS regula-ted foods. The FDA does not have comparable requirements.

A handling statement refers to how the product is maintained while in the package. Examples are 'Keep Frozen' or 'Keep Refrigerated'.

Safe handling instructions provide guidance on safe preparation of the food. They appear on the packaging of most products that contain raw or partially cooked meat or poultry. The FSIS has specific rules as seen on the USDA Required Information on a Label page which specify how safe handling instructions are presented.


The FSIS relies on the FDA for most of its nutrition labeling regulations. For this reason the Nutrition Facts panel for both FSIS and FDA food are the same (with the exception of trans fat labeling). Both use the same 100% Daily Values in determining the % Daily Value for individual nutrients

FSIS uses FDA regulations for nutrient content claims. These are claims like 'low fat', 'sugar free', 'good source of calcium', and others.

FSIS also defers to the FDA for the wording of ingredients in the list of ingredients that follows the Nutrition Facts panel. For example 'sucrose' is

not an acceptable ingredient name. The proper designation of this ingredient for products supervised by both agencies is 'sugar'.

Like the FDA, the FSIS has a long list of rules that goes into all sorts of minutiae. The FSIS is a parallel organization and is not subordinate to the FDA. The FSIS is a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The FDA is in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Though the two agencies have similar nutrition labeling rules, there are differences that must be respected.

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  6. Most people know that FDA are the initials for the federal Food and Drug Administration. The FDA oversees nutrition and safety issues for most food and beverages. USDA however is responsible for nutrition and safety issues for meat and poultry, and for products that contain them.

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