We’ve all been inundated with a lot of news lately, so it’s likely some in the food and beverage industries missed some important news coming from — of all places — a University of Montana cafeteria. Fortunately, a food services journal article writer saw what was going on and reported on the event.
Cafeteria administrators at the university removed the nutritional food labels from the school’s main dining hall because, according to officials, they were causing too much congestion in the serving lines. In other words, the students were taking too much time reading the labels. They wanted to know what was in the food they were interested in selecting and made their selections based on what was on the food label, reported the food services journal article writer.
The fact that reading food labels was causing congestion tells us that consumers do indeed take the time to read nutrition labels, which is important for the food and beverage industries. Further, consumers are concerned about the ingredients in the food they select. To address these concerns, food operators should make sure the labels placed on the food items they market are clear, easy to read and up to date.
Insight into food labels
There’s a lot more to food labels than most of us realize. According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Diets: A Guide to Health and Nutrition, a food label tells consumers about the ingredients and nutritional composition of the food they select.
Labels have been on food items since the early 1900s, but in 1924, the Supreme Court put some teeth into food labels, indicating how transparent — or not — these labels had to be at the time. The court ruled that labels could not be misleading or deceivingto consumers.
In the United States, the food-labeling industry is regulated by two large federal bodies: the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The USDA oversees the proper placement of labels on meat, poultry and egg products, while the FDA primarily is focused on foods such as seafood, bioengineered food products and the dietary supplements posted on food labels.
However, these are not the only federal departments involved in food labeling. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives regulates alcohol beverages, and the U.S. Customs Service requires specific information be placed on the labels of imported food items. These regulations are always being updated and in most cases, especially when it comes to imported food, the requirements are being increased.
Although the goal of all of these organizations always has been to protect the health and well-being of consumers, for food processors and operators, keeping up with these government agencies and their regulations can be complicated.
This particularly is the case for convenience store operators, large and small grocery stores, commissaries and even cafeterias, such as the one at the University of Montana.
Fortunately, today, technologies are available to help food processors and operators quickly make labeling changes in one or multiple locations at the same time. Moreover, cloud-based recipe menu systems are in the pipeline that can make keeping labels up to date even easier. If the recipe for a food item changes, for instance, the values automatically will be recalculated and the labels automatically adjusted to reflect those changes, ensuring greater nutritional accuracy.
Such labeling technologies are emerging at just the right time because the FDA is making regulatory changes to food labels that will go into effect starting next year.* The following are some of the upcoming changes from the FDA:
More food-related items here.