FDA Wants To Know Which Labels You Read When You Shop

The Food and Drug Administration is looking into adjusting labeling regulations and wants to know what you’re looking for to ensure a food item’s healthiness when you’re digging through supermarket shelves.

Here’s what the FDA wants to know, according to its April 28 news release:

* The extent to which consumers notice, use and understand nutrition symbols on front-of-pack labeling of food packages or on shelf tags in retail stores

* Research that assesses and compares the effectiveness of particular approaches to front-of-pack labeling

* Graphic design, marketing and advertising data and information that can help develop better point-of-purchase nutrition information

* How point-of-purchase information may affect decisions by food manufacturers to reformulate products.

The front-of-pack nutrition labeling effort aims to maximize the number of consumers who readily notice, understand, and use point-of-purchase information to make nutritious choices for themselves and their families.

You have until July 28 to say your piece. You can comment online at regulations.gov by entering Docket No. FDA-2010-N-0210.

FDA Seeks Comment, Information, Data on Front-of-Package Labeling and Shelf-Tag Symbols [FDA]
(Thanks, NORMLgirl!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Coles_Law says:

    I almost always ignore any front of pack labels and habitually flip the box around to the side/back for the full label. It’s a force of habit more than anything else, really.

    • Etoiles says:

      Ditto. The package front may be what gets me to pick up a new item, or a new-to-me item, but the “nutrition facts” and ingredients labels are the ones that determine whether it goes in my cart or back on the shelf.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        I tend to only look at the ingredient labels. We go through a loaf of bread every couple of weeks, and I’m slowly looking at every brand’s label to see which one I like the best. I don’t buy any loaf of bread that has sugar in the first four of its ingredients.

        • JohnnyP says:

          I have to look andd find bread that even has sugar instead of HFCS

          • ExtraCelestial says:

            I cut HFCS out of my diet and it completely opened my eyes to how prevalent it is. It’s AMAZING how hard it is to find bread without HFCS, even at health stores.

            • EWU_Student says:

              Is Orowheat a national brand? We have it in the Northwest, and all of their breads are HFCS free.

            • HogwartsProfessor says:

              Nature’s Own and Nature’s Pride have none, and I can get those at Dillon’s and Walmart here. I’ve pretty much stopped buying any other kind.

            • Altimerist says:

              Well, all of Oroweat, Franz, Sara Lee is HFCS free, they use molasses or whatever.

              If you shop Safeway, or one if its spinoffs, their breads contain HFCS.

        • teh says:

          Wait… no sugar? Most bread is (by weight): water, flour, sugar (or honey/molasses), salt, yeast. What else does your bread have in it? The yeast need sugar (and salt) to grow and in well made breads, this sugar is mostly consumed by the yeast.

          • pecan 3.14159265 says:

            I didn’t say the bread didn’t have sugar in it AT ALL. I’m saying that because they list ingredients by weight, it’s easy to find manufacturers that put a lot of sugar into a loaf of bread.

          • maddypilar says:

            Sugar is not a required ingredient in bread.

  2. Grogey says:

    I almost always go to the ingredients then the calories and salts.

  3. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    Depends on the product, but I’m usually looking for the ingredient label first of all.

    Thankfully, most of our grocery-store brand sodas n’ other things use real sugar and not HFCS.

    …At least, I believe so. If HFCS is in the ingredients, they’re required to list it as such, and not just sugar/glucose-fructose… right?

  4. Bohemian says:

    Any time a version of corn syrup is used they should be required to label that somewhere on the package. Next to where they bold if the product has wheat or nuts would work.

    I would like to see gluten free and not gluten free be part of the FDA label on everything so buying food is easier. People who don’t know how to decypher the ingredients that might have gluten have a hard time sorting this out.

    • Firethorn says:

      Isn’t that more of an issue for those that are gluten-sensitive, IE a relatively tiny portion of the market?

      A coworker was talking a bit about that yesterday – mentioned that some people who aren’t gluten-sensitive went on a gluten-free diet because they thought it was healthier and ran into trouble. Turns out gluten is a good thing as long as you’re not allergic to it.

      Part of my issue is with size – I want the nutrition information to be readable, which means you can’t afford to cater specially to every allergy. Ingredients list, certainly. Basic nutrition information, calories, salt, fat, carbs, etc… Very good.

      A label that says “Warning: Product contains peanuts” on a can of peanuts? Silly.

      • tsukiotoshi says:

        We may be a tiny part of the market but that gluten causes me no end of trouble. I just suffer with the chronic stomach and digestive problems since it is so hard for me to buy gluten free and still eat a reasonably balanced diet. It’s easier when I live in cities, but man would I love to see better labeling for gluten.

    • Mad Monarch says:

      I know several people who are Celiacs. Even if something is labelled “Gluten Free” they still habitually research it to ensure it is in fact gluten free.

      If this became widespread to all products and they could relax some, this would be awesome. I agree with this comment.

      • Altimerist says:

        Typically theres a summary at the bottom of the ingredient label that states any allergens.

        It usually says “Contains: Wheat, Soy, Nuts” etc etc

        But for whatever reason, gluten never seems to be on that list.

    • ARP says:

      I don’t think we need to go that far, but I do think food packers should not be able to label things as “100% Natural” when they contain HFCS. I know “Natural” and food processing is a matter of degrees (e.g. sugar is processed), but I think that pushes logical limits.

  5. Snoofin says:

    I dont read labels. I eat what tastes good. I always say its better to die young and happy than old and miserable because you denied yourself everything you love to stay healthy

    • Conformist138 says:

      Ah, but I lived with that philosophy and you know what? Being fat and unhealthy is miserable in every way. I have been denying myself what I “love” in terms of food, but now I’m finding I love life a whole lot more. No cheeseburgers and pizza for me, but in exchange I’m less depressed, have more energy, and am wearing my jeans from high school (size 14, but still a major improvement from my size 20s that I was in danger of out-girthing). Amazingly, I now LIKE working out. If I feel down, I do sit-ups or take a brisk walk and feel better instantly. I crave those old foods sometimes, but it’s less a “boy that sounds yummy” craving and more the dread of a recovering addict about to relapse.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        Kudos to you. I think it’s great to control how you eat because surprise – healthy things can taste good too – and if you work toward being healthier, it means you can enjoy that steak or that pizza once in a while without compounding the problem. I’m probably going to eat a huge cheeseburger tonight, but that’s okay because it’s a once in a while indulgence.

    • nbs2 says:

      But, if X and Y taste equally good, but X is healthier than Y, wouldn’t you want to know.

      Also, without looking at the label, you can’t tell if an item you pick up has ingredient A, which you like or ingredient B, which you don’t. If you have tried it before, fine. But for a new item, you may not know, but you will know if you like the flavor. For example, artificial flavors, HFCS, etc Even ratios can be guessed. If I buy a spicy queso, but the jalapenos are the last ingredient, I know that it won’t be what I want. If they are earlier in the ingredient listing, I know that the cheese/jalapeno ration is closer to what I want.

      Labels aren’t just about nutrition, they are about finding what you like.

    • mrs.bunnykins says:

      @ Conformist138 Well said!

    • evnmorlo says:

      Does your supermarket sell heroin?

  6. MissPeacock says:

    I’m on Weight Watchers, so I always look at Calories/Fat/Fiber since that’s part of their formula for counting points for each item. I also peek at the ingredients to see what is listed first and if there’s anything “partially hydrogenated.”

    • Anonymously says:

      I think the front package should have to say “Contains transfats” if it contains even a spec of the stuff.

      • nbs2 says:

        The problem is the need to distinguish between naturally occurring and artificial transfats. I don’t have a problem with the real transfats – usually there are no more than a gram or two in a serving and the product is inherently pretty unhealthy. But, the introduction of artificial transfats is a problem for me.

        • Anonymously says:

          Yes, you’re right, I forgot about that stuff. Maybe “contained added transfats” or something like that.

  7. Conformist138 says:

    Front of pack almost never catches my eye, it’s too low on the bag or box (in the rare occasions my food comes in a bag or box). On the back is the important part… the part this research appears to be ignoring (haven’t gone to the site, just looking at what consumerist found important to show). My priorities go as follows: check overall serving size and calories per serving, then check percentage of calories from fat, then look over the rest of the chart and compare to other similar products, then read ingredients. So many things can be tossed by the time I see the overall calories that I don’t even have to look at ingredients. With ingredients, high levels of sugar, salt, and pretty much any HFCS gets an item put right back on the shelf.

    Oh, and 2000 calories per day is not healthy for a large percentage of the population. A growing, active 16yo boy needs 2000/day, not a 25yo 5’3″ woman who spends a lot of time sitting at a desk.

    • bsh0544 says:

      2000 calories a day is perfectly healthy if you stay active. If you don’t ever get any exercise, no diet will save you. A growing 16 year old should probably be eating more like 3000 or more calories, especially if he’s active.

      • ExtraCelestial says:

        Very untrue. I’m 5’6″ and range between 120-130. My job requires me to be out on the field (a literal field, mind you) at least 20% of the time and I play league lacrosse and run/lift/yoga almost daily. Sure I can reach 2k easily if I’m drinking 1200 calorie milkshakes and the like, but if I am eating healthy foods I max out at 1500. Generally I’m closer to 1300. 2k is just too much food.

        If you weigh more, you will need to eat more. Obviously Shaq and I are not going to have the same dietary needs irrespective of our occupations.

        • bsh0544 says:

          2 possible responses:
          1 – Anecdotal, everyone’s different, I’m sure you’re familiar with this one.
          2 – Your example doesn’t really show that that’s a healthy amount of food for you, just that it’s what you eat.

          I suppose I should have also added some sort of disclaimer to the effect that the source of the calories is just as important as the number of calories. 1500 (or even 3500) calories of clean, healthy food is better for you than 2000 calories of bacon.

    • visual77 says:

      I am 5’11 and weigh 200 lbs. I do 3 hours of rock climbing per week and 5 hours of racquetball. In an effort to lose weight, I cut *back* to 2,000 per day from the 3,000 per day I was at for the past year (and staying perfectly stable in weight). I don’t think 2,000 is too much for most people, I think for most people, 2,000 would maintain weight. Since I cut those 1,000 calories per day, I’ve been losing 2-3 lbs per week (down from 218 in early April to 202 today).

  8. lonestarbl says:


    Ingridients: Looking for “Partially hydrogenated….” and HFCS – so I can avoid them

  9. veg-o-matic says:

    I’m with everyone else who says nuts to front-of-pack labeling. I regard those symbols and statements as more marketing than “facts,” and go first to the ingredient list.
    Most helpful for my particular restrictions are also the allergy notifications in bold at the bottom of most ingredient lists. Using those can help to quickly rule out products without having to scan through tiny print ingredients.

    Also: that regulations.gov page is purty, like a The USA Today Life Section. Colorful pie charts for everyone!

  10. Don't_rip_me_off_bro says:

    My pet peeve has to do with significant figures. In much of the rest of the world – Asia, Europe, South America – they list things such as fat, trans-fat, etc. to the tenth place, meaning it would actually read 0.4 grams of trans fat per serving, not 0 due to rounding. It is not a question of our capability to do so, it has to do with lobbying I’m sure. To the detriment of the consumer.

    • Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

      Absolutely right! I’ve seen labels stating fat content at 0 grams but calories from fat as 10. It’s all to do with small serving size and then rounding. Not good!

  11. Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

    Manufacturers can put anything they want on the front of the package since I always ignore it. We ALWAYS check the nutrition label for calories, fat, sodium, sugar, and carbs as well as the serving size they apply to (some of them are absurdly small). We frequently check the ingredient list but not always.

  12. Howie Isaacks says:

    I actually read the labels when I shop, including the nutritional info. Because of that, I frequently put products back on the shelf. It’s offensive that some food manufacturers show their products as being low calorie, but only if you eat very small “servings”. If you package a can of soup that will only fill one bowl, that’s one serving, NOT two!

  13. Steele says:

    Can you fix the regulations.gov link please? Thanks. Some of us have a high sensitivity to MSG, and would like to have noted in larger print (instead of literally reading through every ingredient on every label).

    • subtlefrog says:

      Just keep in mind that few products put MSG inclusion on the front of label, which is being considered here.

  14. ARP says:

    I know this is OT, but is there a way to standardize serving sizes for categories of food (e.g. chips, juice, candy, etc.)? It would make it much easier to meaningfully compare brands.

    • Marshmelly says:

      Totally agree. I hate when theres small containers of a certain food, that is marketed as basically one serving but when you look on the back it says that a serving is half the container so you have to double everything (and it becomes wayy more unhealthy than originally thought) =/

      • ames says:

        I just posted my suggestion that asks for nutritional information both per serving and per packet when appropriate. obviously a whole box of cereal doesn’t need nutritional information for the whole thing, but those weird size chip bags where everyone eats the whole bag and there’s 2.5 servings inside? Come ON already.

    • Rjones465 says:

      I believe that is currently under discussion. Right now the food producer chooses the portion sized based on their judgement of what a normal person would eat as one serving. Which basiclly gives them room to make up anything.

  15. raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

    The vague, all-encompassing term, “Spices” drives me nuts. Which spices? Are you including any herbs under that term?

  16. lawnmowerdeth says:


  17. teqjack says:

    Health concerns?

    I look at the ingredients. I am allergic to some things that are near-ubiquitous in prepared foods. Try to find a canned/frozen stew without peas (peas are cheap and for most people a healthy food) for example, and do not trust the picture on the front.

  18. Rjones465 says:

    If anyone submits a comment to the docket, please ask for a symbol to identify foods as vegan! Thanks!

  19. Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

    I really want lables to tell me whether or not a product has caffeine in it, and how much. Not only would it help me better avoid something my body can’t handle, but I think people should realize how much of this drug they are injesting when they consume things.

  20. ShawShaw says:

    I often go straight for the nutrition facts and ingredients list.
    In the nutrition facts I look for:
    Fat (particularly saturated fat)

    In the Ingredients list I tend to check for both good and bad things. The bad: inulin (chickory root fiber that artificially boosts the fiber content and gives me gas), HFCS, hydrogenated anything, enriched and/or bleached flours. I will most likely not buy anything containing any of those ingredients. The good: whole grains and “real” foods instead of crappy imitations (ex: real cheese instead of cheese food product… whatever that shit is). Also, if the ingredient list is a mile long, I tend to not even read it that closely and just put it back on the shelf. If I need to take a class in organic chemistry to know what half (or more!) of the ingredients are, I don’t really want to eat it. Products with really long ingredient lists invariably have this problem.

  21. outlulz says:

    I mostly look at calories because they’re what matters in maintaining weight. I usually won’t buy something that has like 80% of your daily need of fat or salt. And I see the HFCS train is rolling hard in this thread. I don’t really care at all what ingredients are used.

  22. JF says:

    Apples have nutritional labels?

  23. nancypants says:

    Hahaha front of pack nutrition labeling. That’s a joke right there.

    The first thing I look at is the portion size and calories/calories from fat in one portion. I really don’t want them to change the portion size labeling to reflect “what most people would eat” rather than what a portion is. I like how 20 oz sodas and smalls bags of chips have the “1 serving/1 package” info, that’s very nice.

  24. stottpie says:

    Obvious stuff first: Calories/serving, Sodium, Trans Fat. I typically don’t care about saturated fat too much unless it’s substantial like chocolate or ice cream.

    Ingredients is where I make a decision though: Won’t buy anything with MSG, Vanillin, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Salt if it’s not one of the last couple of ingredients (meaning it’s a high concentration). I think they should have to bold type HFCS, PHVO, and MSG.

  25. armchair lactivist says:

    I always read the entire ingredient list, looking for even trace quantities of gluten or dairy products. I would love to know that items are made in a plant that doesn’t process gluten or dairy – it makes my shopping easier when companies choose to include that information.

    I also look for any corn ingredients, but that’s certainly secondary now that the gluten/dairy is forefront in my mind.

  26. cerbie_the_orphan says:

    Gotta love how they don’t ask if we actually want information; only about how what is already there is displayed.

    Hows about:
    a) country of origin on all produce
    b) note about whether or not it has been irradiated (ionizing radiation? I’ll pass)
    c) whether or not it contains GMOs
    d) three ore more significant figures for everything that exists in any measurable amount

    If someone isn’t interested, they will not look. If someone is interested, they will look.

  27. Mr.DuckSauce says:

    I first check ingredients, then sodium and sugar, then saturated fats, the nutritional value to see how much I am getting from the product and how much per serving of how much pieces or grams of nutrition.

    Looking mostly for hfsc, fructose, corn syrup and mostly less chemical ingredients.

  28. BEERxTaco says:

    Calories, Fat and Fiber. That’s all I need to know up front. If I need more, I can look at the details.

  29. ArtsyChick says:

    Bad: sugar, trans fats, corn syrup, “whole grains” made with enriched bleached flour, carbs, calories, cal from fat, Jiffs naturals that concist of peanuts, sugar, soybean oil and molasses and anything with a mile long list of ingredients that came from a lab. oh and front of packaging cuz thats just bs as well as bs portion sizes.

    Good: fiber, protein, actual ingredients found on this planet w/o chemists’ interventions

  30. Not Given says:

    I try to avoid added sugars, hydrogenation and soy. I look to maximize protein and natural saturated fats and minimize vegetable oils and carbohydrates. The shorter the ingredient list, the better.

  31. nerble says:

    Look, I realize that the whole calories on the menus at restaurants thing is fail, and we’re still eating stuff you don’t want us to. We the people will eat fattening crap even if you make manufacturers write in neon blinking letters, “this is made of disgusting stuff you don’t even want to know about and will give you 3 extra chins,” on the packaging.