The ubiquitous nutrition facts label. Mandated by the FDA and required on most pre-packaged food sold for public consumption, the nutrition facts label is meant to serve as a guide to a specific product’s ingredients based on an average 2,000 calorie a day diet.
Although the FDA sets specific and explicit guidelines (down to the typeface and font size to be used), there remains room for ambiguity.
Moreover, did you know that restaurant and packaged foods can actually have more calories than what is indicated on the nutrition label? Studies have found that the worst offenders are side dishes — sometimes exceeding the restaurant’s reported calorie content by as much as 200 percent. In fact, a recent study published in the Review of Agricultural Economics, found that fast food meals are actually smaller and have fewer calories than the food served at restaurants.
All of that aside here are 10 little known facts about the nutrition facts label:
- Foods with less than five calories meet the definition of “calorie free”
- If fat is present at a level below 0.5 g, the level of fat is expressed as 0 g
- The term serving or serving size means an amount of food customarily consumed per eating occasion by persons 4 years of age or older
- The serving size for maraschino cherries is one cherry
- Manufacturers determine the accuracy of the nutrient contents of their own product(s). See: Restaurant and Packaged Foods Can Have More Calories Than Nutrition Labeling Indicates
- The FDA does not check for the accuracy of product labeling (but will occasionally collect “surveillance” samples to monitor the accuracy of nutrition information)
- The FDA does not maintain a database of nutrition information, but instead reviews and accepts industry databases
- For products usually divided for consumption (e.g., cake, pie or pizza), the serving size shall be the fractional slice of the ready-to-eat product (e.g., 1/12 cake (tiny piece), 1/8 pie (tiny slice), 1/4 pizza – usually two slices)
- Sulfites are considered incidental ingredients and need not be listed among the label’s ingredients
- Allergens other than the eight major food allergens are not subject to FALCPA (Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act) labeling requirements. FALCPA’s labeling requirements do not apply to a sandwich that was prepared by say, a deli or a restaurant. Incidentally, the eight major food allergens as defined by the FALCPA are: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans.