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Food labels provide an opportunity to make informed choices. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) establishes regulations and guidance on commercially manufactured and licensed food labeling. These are meat, produce, and goods you find in volume at a grocery store. Each requires an FDA nutrition label.
On the other hand, a cottage food permit allows people to make and sell non-hazardous food in their kitchen at home. Some items include baked goods, canned goods, candy, dry spices, and tea blends. Cottage food labeling differs from the FDA food labeling in that each state determines rules and regulations for home-based food businesses.
There are food labeling requirements regardless of whether it's a licensed food business or a cottage food operation (CFO). The importance of food labeling is to keep consumers safe. And, it's essential to know who is manufacturing the product.
But, what is food labeling, exactly? Typically, labels have two distinct display areas—a primary display panel providing the manufacturer's contact information and an ingredient information panel.
Generally, there are mandatory labeling requirements, such as a disclaimer "Made at home as a cottage food operation not subject to routine government inspection." Basically, the label lets consumers know that the homemade food they're buying isn't FDA approved. But keep in mind that CFOs must register with the local health authority.
When searching for food label examples, make sure you look to reputable sites that comply with your state’s cottage food laws. You don’t want to base your design on misleading food labels examples that don’t list the correct information. Stick to the facts and don’t make any claims that you can’t back up.
Misleading wording can get you in trouble. For example, no cholesterol, all-natural, no sodium, no nitrates, and no trans-fat are claims that you might not be able to back up as a CFO. Your cottage food labels must comply with state regulations and not be misleading.
Here is an excellent example from Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute. This example clearly outlines each section for cottage food labels in Ohio.
At the top of the label is a heading called the Statement of Identity. It’s the name of the food. The Statement of Identity should accurately describe the nature of the food, its characteristics, or its ingredients. In this case, “Chocolate Chip/ Milk Chocolate Chunk Cookies.”
Under the heading is a detailed ingredient list. As the labeling example from Ohio state notes, a CFO must list each ingredient by its common name. What’s more, it’s vital to list the ingredients in descending order according to their weight. That means the heaviest ingredient goes first, the next heaviest second, and so on.
Any ingredient with two or more sub-ingredients must also be on the ingredient list using their common name. Next to the sub-ingredients common name, there should be a parenthesis containing a listing of all the ingredients in it, listed in descending order.
Next, a statement of responsibility goes on the left-hand side of the label, between the ingredients list and the bottom line. The statement includes the CFO's business name, street address, city, state, and zip code. If you list the business name in the local telephone directory, you can use a P.O. box in place of the physical address.
You might also include a telephone number, or your website, and your email address. Generally, those aren’t a requirement and won’t go in the ingredient list section or the statement of responsibility. Instead, you can print the information elsewhere on the product packaging to add customer service value.
You’ll find the net weight (Net Wt) at the bottom left-hand corner of the label example. This part of the label states the net quantity of contents in terms of weight. Additionally, the label must list the U.S. weight and include the metric system measurement in parenthesis: NET WT 8 OZ (227 g).
Finally, as we mentioned earlier, the cottage food declaration lets consumers know that this is a homemade product. To comply with cottage food laws in Ohio, CFOs must list the cottage food declaration in the bottom right-hand corner of the label. The statement can be as simple as, “This product is home-produced,” as long as it makes it clear that you made the food at home and it didn’t require inspection by a food regulatory authority.
Regardless of where you live, there are a few general requirements for cottage food labels. Remember that cottage food labeling is all about being transparent about who makes the product, what is in the product, and the location where the CFO makes it.
Before selling food from home, it's essential to determine the best packaging to protect it from contamination. Also, design the labeling to meet cottage food requirements. The layout and wording may differ from state to state, but there are general guidelines you can follow.
For example, most cottage food labeling will require the following elements:
The declaration of any food allergen is also a requirement for cottage food labels. Some major food allergens include:
Also, any ingredient that contains protein from any of these ingredients or additives is an allergen that needs clear identification.
There are typically several parts on cottage food labels. The earlier example from Ohio state is one way to set it up. The easiest way to ensure you cover all the sections for your state is to use a cottage food label template.
Each state has a template online that you can use, such as this one from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Using a template takes the guesswork out of labeling cottage foods. While a nice design is important, accurate labeling is vital.
Since a private residence is not a commercial production facility, it isn't required to have an FDA registration. Instead, a private home where you manufacture, process, pack, or hold food falls under local and county health regulations. Local government agencies such as the health department and the department of agriculture provide assistance and education on what information is required on food labels for CFOs.
While FDA labeling requirements generally doesn't impact cottage food labeling, it's still good to understand US food labeling laws and regulations. After all, your cottage food business might outgrow the home kitchen. Why not be prepared for that kind of success?
Regardless, FDA labeling requirements form the basis of food safety, so it doesn't hurt to develop general knowledge regarding the FDA food labeling guide 2021. And if you're thinking about how to start a food business, knowing the difference between FDA labeling requirements and CFO labels is essential.
FDA registration requirements apply to commercial food production facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold food for human or animal consumption. The FDA inspects these operations to ensure the products are safe, sanitary, and labeled according to federal requirements. It also assesses the organization's compliance with food safety laws, among other things.
There are additional product-specific regulations to ensure certain foods like milk, eggs, and seafood are safe. Consequently, many of these items are illegal to serve as cottage food. There is a specific list in each state that includes what foods are safe for CFOs.
The FDA uses different rules to regulate dietary supplements than they do other food and drug products. Dietary supplement manufacturers and distributors don't need FDA approval before marketing nutritional supplements. However, they must ensure the products are safe.
They can't make false or misleading claims. Also, they must comply with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and other FDA regulations.
Like CFOs, commercial food manufacturers are responsible for developing labels. The big difference is that they must also include nutrition information that meets legal food labeling requirements.
Manufacturers can use the US Department of Agriculture's database to develop accurate nutrient information for their products. They can also use the database in conjunction with food product recipes to calculate nutrition information required for food labels. The FDA nutrition labeling manual provides clear technical instructions on developing and using the nutrition databases.
On the other hand, manufacturers can hire a commercial laboratory to analyze and determine the product's nutrient content.
While some CFOs might require a health department inspection, the FDA's Office of Regulatory Affairs (ORA) inspects commercial food production and packaging facilities. The FDA may also arrange for state regulatory officials to inspect the facility on its behalf.
Generally, the FDA inspects food facilities according to a schedule. The FDA determines the inspection schedule according to the risk level of the product, how much time it's been since the last inspection, and the company's compliance history, as well as other factors dependent upon the product.
By contrast, home kitchen inspections aren't as detailed. Typically, the inspector will focus on the equipment and kitchen cleanliness, general sanitation, and storage.
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