Requirements and labeling necessary to export food to the US

Main labeling requirements in the US

The export of food to the United States has become in recent years a possibility that more and more companies value as a market opportunity. However, this country has some peculiarities that differentiate it from the operation of trade with other countries. Among the factors to be considered, we can highlight the political and economic situation of the United States, the country's legislation, the consumption trends of its population, as well as the requirements and target products of that export.

Within the legislative aspects, we find ourselves with very strict requirements regarding labeling, which differ from those established in the European Union by Regulation 1169/2011.

When preparing the label and distributing the information in the container space, we must bear in mind that the FDA establishes different areas to place the information: [1,2]

  • PDP (main exposure panel): The PDP is the part of the package label that is most exposed to the consumer's view at the time of purchase (Figure 1). In the PDP, the declaration of identity (the name of the food) and the declaration of net quantity (the quantity of the product) must appear. The size of the PDP as well as the declarations (content and typography) that it contains must comply with the requirements established by the legislation, which in this case we will not detail because they are very extensive, although you can consult them by contacting us.
  • Information panel: the information panel is the label panel located to the right of the PDP, as shown to the consumer (figure 1). The statements that this section must contain are: name and address of the manufacturer, the packer or distributor, the list of ingredients, the labeling of nutritional information and any labeling on allergies



Figure 1: Spatial distribution of the labeling in the container according to the requirements of the FDA

The information contained in the "information panel", especially the one related to the list of ingredients and nutritional labeling, is what most interests us from a consultancy point of view since it is the one that usually leads to more problems at the time to implant it. Let's see what requirements are stipulated for this part of the label:


List of ingredients: [3,4,5]: you must mention the food components in decreasing order of the weight in which they are present, a requirement that does not apply when the ingredients are in quantities less than 2%. The size of the font must be at least one-sixteenth of an inch in height (depending on the lowercase letter "or") and must be prominent, noticeable and easy to read. The mention of each ingredient must also be based on specific requirements.

On the other hand, it is very important to consider what type of additives we are going to use in our products, especially in the case of chemical preservatives (which must be previously authorized by the FDA) and dyes (which are classified as certificates and not certificates).


• Nutritional information: the way of mentioning the nutrients was modified in 2016 based on the results of new scientific studies on diet and its relation with chronic diseases. The deadline to adapt the nutritional labeling to these new requirements is until January 1, 2020 for companies with sales that exceed 10 million dollars, and until January 1, 2021 for companies that have less than $ 10 million in sales. Thus, the nutrients should be mentioned as follows:

Calories: they are referred to as "Calories, total" or "Total calories".
o Calories from fat, expressed as "Calories from saturated fat" or "calories from saturated" (voluntary mention). It should be noted that this statement is being annulled as research shows that the type of fat is more important than the quantity [6].

Fats, mentioned as "Fat, total" or "total fat" (expressed in grams, g). Within this section we find mentions to saturated fats ("Saturated fat" (grams, g)) and trans fats ("Trans fat" (grams, g)).

o Cholesterol content: "Cholesterol" (expressed in milligrams, mg): not required in products with less than 2 milligrams of cholesterol per serving or that do not have statements about the presence of fat or cholesterol.

o Sodium content: "Sodium" (expressed in milligrams, mg).

o Fluoride content, "Fluoride" (voluntary, except when mention is made of its content on the label).

o Carbohydrate content: "Carbohydrate, total" or "total carbohydrate" (expressed in grams, g). Within this section we find:

• "Dietary fiber" (grams, g), which in turn is broken down into:

     * "Soluble fiber" (voluntary, except when mention is made of its content on the label).

     * "Insoluble fiber" (voluntary, except when mention is made of its content on the label).

• "Total sugar" (grams, g) (monosaccharides and free disaccharides). Within this section we find:

     * "Added sugars" (grams, g): monosaccharides and disaccharides that are added during manufacturing.

     * "Sugar alcohol": voluntary, except when mention is made of its presence or the food contains this type of sugars (eg mannitol, xylitol, sorbitol).

o Protein content, expressed as "Protein" (grams, g).

o Vitamin and mineral content, referred to as "Vitamins and minerals" (the unit of measurement depends on the nutrient).
To name the numerical content of each of them, rounds are made whose requirements depend on each nutrient.


On the other hand, the right-hand side of the value of the nutrient content should be set to an aligned column under the heading "% Daily Value" (which must be justified to the right) in which the proportion of nutrients contained in the ration compared with the daily reference quantities (Daily Reference Values, DRV).

On the other hand, To determine the serving size ("serving size") and the number of servings per container ("servings per container") that must be mentioned, a series of steps must be followed:

1. Find the category of the product in question in the tables provided in section 101.12 (B) [7] which indicate the quantities of food that are normally consumed on one occasion (not those that should be consumed [6]). This amount allows you to calculate the portion size below.

2. The portion size for the product in question is calculated using the RACC (Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed) provided by the table. The legislation establishes different guidelines to establish the portion size based on the weight of the product unit.
3. Once the serving size has been calculated, we determine the number of rations present in the package.

The typography of the nutritional labeling is established for each of the mentions contained in it.

Figure 2: Representative illustration of the nutrition labeling typography that incorporates the latest legislative developments of 2016

Although this is only a sample of the required requirements, we can see that the US legislation establishes very detailed requirements when carrying out the different mentions, something that can be difficult to handle when we have to develop the labeling.

In short, the main recommendation to make the labeling of products destined to the US is to make an in-depth study of the legislation of this country, which is essential because by small errors we can find major problems at the border, which could cause significant losses economic for the company.


1. General Requirements for Food Labeling. FDA. 2009. Available at:

2. Subpart A - General provisions. Part 101. Subchapter B. Chapter I. Title 21 Food and drugs. e-CFR. Available at:

3. List of ingredients. Guide for the industry: Food labeling guide. FDA. Available at:

4. Section 101.4 Food; designation of ingredients. Subpart A - General Provisions. Part 101. Subchapter B. Chapter I. Title 21. Food and Drugs. e-CFR. Available at:

5. Section 101.22 Food; designation of ingredients. Subpart A - General Provisions. Part 101. Subchapter B. Chapter I. Title 21. Food and Drugs. e-CFR. Available at:

6. Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label. FDA. Available at:

7. Section 101.12 reference amounts customarily consumed per eating occasion. Subpart A. Part 101. Subchapter B. Chapter I. Title 21. Food and Drugs. e-CFR. Available at:


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Inés Rojo

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