Get Up to Speed on Nutrition Facts Panel Updates

Get Up to Speed on Nutrition Facts Panel Updates

November 12, 2014

What are the main areas of improvement for the Nutrition Facts Panel?

Like any good program, the Nutrition Facts Panel (NFP) was due for an update. The current NFP has not been updated since its introduction in 1993. By updating the NFP it allows the FDA to take advantage of the latest science for updated dietary reference intakes for various nutrients such as sodium, fiber and calcium. This update also allowed the FDA to look at changes to nutrients of concern for the general public. It was determined that vitamins A and C were no longer nutrients of concern for the general public and are proposed to be replaced with potassium and vitamin D. The current NFP requires stating the amount of sugar in a product. The proposed rule would require breaking out the “added sugars” which will help consumers know how much sugar is naturally occurring and how much has been added to the product. 

Formatting changes include highlighting the number of calories by enlarging the font and bolding the number. Another change is moving the %Daily Values (DVs) to the left side of the NFP. People read from left to right and it is thought it would be easier to see the %DV. 

Where are we today, and when will the final updates be made?

Today, all we have is a proposed rulemaking.  This allowed the public to send in comments on the proposed changes to the NFP. Over 200,000 comments flooded into the FDA with various comments to all of the proposed changes. The FDA will review these comments and then issue a final ruling.  Many believe that this final rule will be published within the next two years. At that time, the FDA will give a date when the new NFPs should appear on the shelf. It is likely that the FDA will give industry 2-3 years to comply with the new label format. That would mean the new labels could appear in 2018.

How does this impact the work of a retail dietitian?

Not just retail dietitians, but all dietitians will have to learn how to read the new format. When using the NFP as a counseling/teaching tool will require the dietitian to educate themselves on the changes coming to the label. The DV’s are changing which will change how we talk about good and excellent sources of various nutrients and foods. While there are many changes coming, a few key nutrients include:

·      Calcium currently is 1,000mg, proposed is 1,300mg

·      Fiber currently is  25g, proposed is 28g

·      Sodium currently is 2,400mg, proposed is 2,300mg

There are several changes proposed that include not only the DVs, but also some serving sizes and Recommended Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACCs). For instance, the current RACC for yogurt is 8 oz.  However, the typical yogurt container in today’s grocery store is 6 oz. FDA is acknowledging this typical 6 oz container and has proposed to decrease the RACC for yogurt to 6 oz. 

There will also be changes to the number of servings in smaller packages. The FDA is proposing that many smaller packages that are 200 – 400% of the current RACC to have dual column labeling.  Meaning that the NFP should show the nutritionals for consuming both a household measure, such as 1/2 cup, and for eating the entire package, such as up to 2 cups. Currently, the serving size for ice cream is 1/2 cup. Under the new proposed rules, the pint of ice cream would have nutritional labeling for eating both 1/2 cup of ice cream and the labeling for eating the entire 1 pint of ice cream. This dual column labeling would appear on many snack size bags of chips, nuts, microwaveable cans of soup and pasta, to name a few food products that could be affected by these changes.

What resources are available to support a retail dietitian during this transition?

I think the best resource is the FDA website, www.FDA.Gov. There are all sorts of review articles on the changes proposed for the NFP

Anything else you think is important to understand?

While lots of changes were proposed, until we see the final rule, we won’t know for sure what the final label will look like. Consumers will be looking to the Retail Dietitian for guidance and education on these revolutionary changes. The grocery store is the perfect venue to educate consumers on key changes to the NFP. It will be imperative for all dietitians to keep abreast of these changes and to identify key messages to pass to the consumer.

Patty Packard MS, RD is the Director of Nutrition & Regulatory for healthyAisles® at Vestcom International. Patty oversees the healthyAisles® program which is a nutrient database, which is the largest provider of FDA/USDA based shelf-edge nutrition claims to the retail industry. Currently, healthyAisles® is currently in over 10,000 retail stores in the U.S. Patty is a registered dietitian with more than 15 years of extensive nutrition experience in the food industry. She has spoken on regulatory issues at national meetings, given oral comments to FDA, co-chaired the National Nutrient Database meeting in 2011, and has co-authored over 10 publications. Prior to joining Vestcom, Patty was a Director of Nutrition at ConAgra Foods.