Regulatory Affairs Knowledge Central to Retail Dietitian Role

Regulatory Affairs Knowledge Central to Retail Dietitian Role

May 8, 2013

Annette Maggi, MS, RD, LD, FADA
Executive Director, RDBA

Several years ago while working at Target, I was in a divisional meeting where the SVP of Grocery made a comment that “selling food was just like selling frozen Barbies.”  While many people in the audience of 300+ laughed, those of us with background in quality, food safety and regulatory affairs shuttered.  After all, selling food is nothing like selling frozen Barbies.

I mention this story as it highlights the importance of understanding what you know and what you don’t know when you work in any facet of the food industry.  Over the course of my career, this is relevant as it relates to regulatory affairs. 

As dietitians, we use many terms loosely in consumer education – one food has less saturated fat than another, one product is a good source of fiber, certain choices are healthy.  From a regulatory perspective, however, all these terms – less, good source, healthy – are regulated.  When you work in a retail environment, it’s essential to be knowledgeable of these terms and how they can be used when talking about food.

It’s obvious that the information presented on the physical product package is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  But what may be less obvious is that these same regulations apply to labeling and advertisingLabeling is any written, printed or graphic material that accompanies the product.  Examples include brochures, website content, point-of-purchase signage, and press releases.  If you’re writing an article about a food product in a consumer newsletter, for example, the regulations need to be followed.  Advertising is promotional material or statements made for a product that do not meet the definitions of label or labeling, and include commercials on radio and television, and promotional statements in newspapers and magazines.  Advertising is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, which follows the FDA and USDA food regulations. 

Gaining regulatory knowledge and expertise adds value to your personal brand and your company, and can lead to additional opportunities in the retail industry.  With the potential that the new menu labeling regulations may have implications for ready-to-eat foods sold in the grocery stores, expanded and new career opportunities will arise for dietitians with experience in labeling.  To gain or increase your regulatory knowledge consider:

  • Attending food labeling courses offered by the Food Marketing Institute, Grocery Manufacturers Association and others.
  • Reading up on existing regulations as well as participating in the process by which new regulations are developed and finalized.
  • Joining LinkedIn groups that specifically address regulatory affairs.  Some that I am a member of include Food Labeling Community, Food Nutrition Label, Dietary Supplement & Menu Labeling & Advertising, and Quality and Regulatory Network.

Understanding the regulatory environment adds credibility to your message, protects your company by ensuring compliance, and potentially leads to new responsibilities or career roles.