Product labels usually convey five things: content, quantity, company brand, contact information, and nutritional information. For olive oil producers in the United States who intend to provide their product for retail sale to consumers, there are general regulations about labeling laws and, in a few states, specific regulations regarding olive oil labeling. Almost all food labeling regulations are enforced by the FDA.
While there are specific requirements about things like type size, prominence, and conspicuousness of the information, there are a few basics to be aware of. We would strongly encourage you to visit the FDA sites listed below for detailed information.
In sum, make sure your product labeling includes the following:
- The PRIMARY DISPLAY PANEL (PDP) must include the name of the product (e.g. Extra Virgin Olive Oil) and net quantity (in both Metric and U.S. Customary). This area is also the obvious place to put your company brand information, although not legally required if the packaging has two label areas.
- The INFORMATION PANEL (secondary display) typically includes the name and address of the manufacturer, packer or distributor, the ingredient list, nutrition labeling, and UPC scanning codes. If there is only one label area (PDP), company contact information must be included in that label.
The following sections provide a brief summary of this required information:
PRIMARY DISPLAY PANEL LABELING
That is the dominant label that consumers will see when purchasing the product.
- Statement of Identity (name of food): Identify the oil on the basis of its certified quality (for example, EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL) and, if it has been organically produced in accordance with U.S. regulations, as ORGANIC.
- Net Quantity Statement (amount of food): Food labels must show the net contents in both metric (grams, kilograms, milliliters, liters) and U.S. Customary System (ounces, pounds, fluid ounces) terms. The metric statement may be placed either before or after the U. S. Customary statement, or above or below it. Consult our Useful Number Conversions page for conversion numbers.
- Most producers will also use another label area, the INFORMATIONAL PANEL LABELING, to comply with other requirements. If you only plan to use one label, then the PDP must satisfy these requirements as well (see below).
- Name and address of the manufacturer, packer or distributor: This is a core requirement for all food labeling. Unless the name given is the actual manufacturer, it must be accompanied by a qualifying phrase that states the firm's relation to the product (e.g., "manufactured for "or "distributed by").
- Ingredient list: If appropriate to the product content, identify any added ingredients beyond olive oil (flavoring, herbs, etc.) in this area.
- Nutrition labeling: This is a requirement unless your business does less than $500,000 in gross product sales, or has an average of fewer than 100 full-time employees and you sold fewer than 100,000 units in the U.S. in the prior twelve months. You must apply for this exemption to the FDA.
- UPC scan code: This is not a requirement of the FDA, but may be for store retailers.
DETAILED LABELING DIRECTIONS REFERENCES
For detailed directions on creating a product label, we strongly encourage you to consult two sites that have exhaustive details about product food labeling:
- FDA Food Labeling Guide: the FDA has an easy to follow “question and answer” type format.
- NAOOA Brief Labeling Guide for Olive Oil The North America Olive Oil Association has put together a brief labeling guide for olive oil that can answer most questions specific to olive oil product labeling.
In addition to general product information, any statements that make specific health claims are investigated by the FDA. If you make health claims in advertising materials or on your website, then the FTC has jurisdiction.
If you wish to claim specific health benefits from your product, there are three broad categories that health claims can go into:
- Health claims such as "reduces cancer" or "decreases chance of heart disease" are claims that must be extensively documented with clinical trials. These types of claims are by far the most difficult to gain approval of.
- Structure or function claims such as "supports heart health" which are made on the label are easier to justify as there are thousands of substances that can satisfy this limited statement.
- Generally recognized as safe and effective (GRAS) is a new FDA safe area. A substance that will be added to a food needs pre-market approval by the FDA unless its use is GRAS. There is a long list of substances that have extensive research which you can borrow to assume the ingredient is GRAS.
Until recently, olive oil importers had effectively blocked passage of more meaningful labeling. With the passage of California State Senate Bill SB634 in 2008, olive oil labeling requirements are now much stronger for products sold in California. The same has happened in Connecticut, New York, and Oregon. As of December 2009, legislators in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland are actively working on similar laws. These laws can guide any state-specific laws you may want to be aware of.
VALUABLE WEBSITE LINKS
As noted above, you may also find useful information on the following websites:
- FDA Labeling and Nutrition
- FDA Food Ingredients and Packaging (includes GRAS)
- FDA GRAS Claims
- Labeling Packaged Products Under the National Organic Standards