STILLWATER, Okla. — While standing in a grocery store aisle, a consumer scans the shelves searching for the most appealing product. The seemingly informed shopper checks for the best deals and clutches onto products best suited for personal nutritional needs and health concerns. However, the biggest threat isn’t the extraordinary price or the temptation of the junk food aisle; it’s the misleading food label in plain sight.
The Food Labeling Workshop at the Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center is designed to focus on small businesses. Food industry professionals embrace the opportunity to design an honest and attractive label, while still abiding by regulations. This experience provides information about the Food and Drug Administration’s food labeling regulations and highlights topics such as mandatory label elements and nutrition claims.
Chuck Willoughby, FAPC business and marketing relations manager, presents information including special labeling issues and regulations at the workshop, focusing on the inconsistent claim “natural.”
“Food marketers are responding to the consumers’ desire for clean labeled, minimally processed foods, so natural and organic labeling conveys some trust with consumers,” Willoughby said. “However, since the FDA has not taken a stance on defining natural, many consumers are becoming skeptical.”
Skeptical consumers read the back of the label thoroughly before putting the natural packaged food in their shopping cart, he added.
“The Food Labeling Workshop certainly could be beneficial to consumers, as well as industry professionals,” Willoughby said. “There are some consumers who will find interesting all the regulations and guidance that goes into building a label that is FDA compliant.”
Darren Scott, FAPC food scientist and sensory specialist, presents information about serving sizes, reference amounts, rounding rules and alternate formats on nutrition fact panels at the Food Labeling Workshop.
“Serving sizes are based around what you consider to be the average consumer or the average adult,” Scott said. “There is never going to be a perfect gauge, but it is probably the best one to be representative.”
The reference amount aids consumers by helping them compare labels, Scott said. A standardized reference amount means that no matter what brand, consumers are comparing the same amount of product, he added.
“Lots of products have high protein content and traditionally protein intake has not been an issue in the United States,” Scott said. “The challenge is to make sure the consumers have good information and are not just following a trend.”
Over time, eating habits are evolving and the FDA could adjust the nutrition facts panel accordingly, he added.
Diana Justice, the director of technical services for Griffin Foods and the House of Webster, attended a recent two-day Food Labeling Workshop at FAPC.
“I would absolutely recommend the Food Labeling Workshop to anyone who has any responsibility for developing, reviewing or managing labels,” Justice said. “It is good for both beginners and seasoned professionals as it teaches new things and reminds those who have been doing this for a while of the subtleties we may have forgotten.”
While working at Griffin Foods for over six years, Justice has attended numerous training opportunities at FAPC, earning a FAPC Food Safety Professional Certification.
“The FAPC certification has many benefits including networking with other people in the industry, an opportunity to learn new skills and gain exposure to products outside of your area of expertise, and access to industry professionals with a broad range of knowledge and skills to help troubleshoot issues,” she said.
The FAPC Food Safety Professional Program was created to recognize individuals who complete a significant number of food safety trainings offered by FAPC.
“I feel more valued by my employer for attaining the FAPC Food Safety Professional Certification,” Justice said. “I have a great employer who values food safety and respects me for what I do. He always appreciated my passion for food safety and quality, but as a life-long learner himself, he supports and encourages me to attend FAPC training opportunities.”
To produce a quality label with the overall goal to inform and appeal to consumers, food industry professionals learn the basics at the Food Labeling Workshop. Beneficial topics include mandatory label elements, nutrition labeling requirements, health and nutrition claims, food allergen labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, and special labeling issues such as exemptions.
While pushing a piled-high shopping cart toward the registers, the confidence of a consumer heightens. By understanding the clear words printed on the label of each product, an educated shopper can make informed decisions without the misleading label claims.
FAPC, a part of OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, helps to discover, develop and deliver technical and business information that will stimulate and support the growth of value-added food and agricultural products and processing in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma State University
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