A Guide to The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act – FAQs
The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA) may not be the most comprehensive set of label regulations, but it is the most prevalent. Almost every consumable you buy, from soda to vitamins, falls under these labeling regulations. How did it come about, and how does it affect your packaging?
What Do These Federal Regulations Do?
The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act requires labels on qualifying products to display three pieces of information:
- The identity of the product
- The name and location of the manufacturer, distributor or packer
- The net quantity of contents in terms of weight, measure, or numerical count stated in accordance with the metric system as well as inches and pounds on the principal display panel
- Declarations of quantity must appear in distinct contrast from other elements of the package, in an easy-to-read, bold typeface
Under this act, measurements must comply with additional regulations set forth by the Office of Weights and Measures of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Products must also follow the Globally Harmonized System for classifying chemicals.
The first version of this law came into effect at the start of 1967, while the metric labeling requirement was added on February 14, 1994.
Why Were These Federal Laws Created?
This legislation was brought about by an explosion in consumer goods after WWII, which led to a need for more consumer protection. Even the content of individual packages could vary widely, making even value comparisons difficult for purchasers. This compounded problems caused by vague legislation. While similar laws date back as far as 1906, they were defined under non-specific terms like “misleading,” “unfair” and “deceptive.” This meant the government had to take every fraud case to court and argue their case.
The administration act focuses on two common issues: packaging-to-price, where the amount varies based on current cost instead of stated content, and deceptive packaging practices such as slack fill, where the container was made to seem like it held more than it did. During congressional hearings, Senator Abraham A. Ribicoff demonstrated this issue with three random packages of baking powder. All three were the same product from the same manufacturer bought in the same store at the same price. However, one container had 16 oz. of powder, another 14.3 oz, and the third held just 14 oz. Similar discrepancies were found across a wide range of products.
The other issue targeted by the act is “cents off” labels. Sale claims didn’t need any backing, so the label could say “$0.50 off retail price,” even if it was still sold at its regular price. Other act regulations, including product identity, merely clarified existing laws.
How Does This Act Functionally Protect Consumers?
While it discourages questionable practices, actual legal action has been minimal. The contents of packages are now consistent, but there hasn’t been any action against slack fill. Doing so would require strict guidelines for the accurate fill of every product on the market. With that being said, industries have overall reduced excess packaging, increasing consumer confidence. Some manufacturers have taken proactive steps to stay on the right side of the law. This is why breakfast cereals often carry the statement “This package is sold by the weight not volume. Some settling of the contents may have occurred during transport.” In this case, the bag is filled to the top at the factory. As it shakes in transit, the contents settle, leaving space at the top of the bag. This space is caused by handling, not slack filling.
The act standardized weight labeling, and banned the use of descriptors. Packaging could no longer include content sizes like “full quart” or “jumbo pound.” This practice was already falling out of favor when the act came into effect because consumers saw through the marketing. The FDA also worked to reduce the number of package sizes, but only for a few products. Toothpaste sizes went from over 60 to just 6, but most products were still available in dozens of sizes.
Under the act, serving sizes have to be stated along with the amount of each serving. This allows easy comparison between products, but it’s hard to tell if the serving is as much as the buyer uses. To combat this, the FDA added suggested serving sizes to the Nutrition Facts label, based on what most people consume in one sitting. This was last updated in 2019 to reflect changes in eating habits. For example, the original soda serving size was based on drinking an 8 oz. glass bottle. This was changed to 12 oz. to reflect the switch to larger cans. There are some exemptions – products outside the FDA’s jurisdiction don’t have regulated serving sizes.
Discount labels were being phased out in favor of coupons when the act came into effect. The act’s additional labeling requirements, which include store display labeling, effectively killed the “cents off” label.
What Products are Covered by the Act, and Who Has Jurisdiction?
Consumer commodities as defined by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act are subject to the FPLA. These commodities include food, drugs, and cosmetics produced or distributed for retail sale. These products also must be used by individuals for personal care. For example, an over-the-counter medication falls under this act, but prescription drugs don’t.
Depending on the nature of the product, it may fall under the additional regulation of one or more of these government agencies:
– The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service (CBP) handles goods imported into the country.
– The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) handles cosmetics, drugs, and foods.
– The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) handles consumer disclosure, including packaging and labeling, on a wide range of consumer products.
– The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) manages any regulatory compliance outside the CBP, FDA, or CPSC.
In practice, qualifying products fall almost exclusively under the FDA’s jurisdiction. The CBP only gets involved if containers are imported for retail sale. Usually, products are shipped into the country in bulk containers and then repackaged for local sale. This places label compliance on the packager and the related regulatory body.
How Does the Fair Packaging And Labeling Act Affect How I Label My Products?
The name and address of the packager, distributor, or manufacturer must be printed on the information panel. Additional contact information can be added, including phone numbers and website addresses.
For most products, this act requires a net weight for solid products or a volume statement for liquid products on the lower 30% of the display panel. Semi-solids use weight measurements if they’re too thick to be pumped. Medicines and supplements sold in pill form should state the number of pills. The actual amount in the container must be the same or higher than the stated weight, accounting for manufacturing variations and product loss during storage.
The exterior container must have both the net content statement and the producer statement. Containers inside a multi-unit container do not need to meet the act’s requirements, as long as the exterior container does. Multi-unit containers must state the number of individual containers, the container size, and the total size of the package. For example, a 6-pack of 12 oz. bottles would use the statement “6-12 oz bottles – (72 fl oz.)” You have the option of using fully compliant containers inside a multi-unit container. This includes items like drink cans packaged in a cardboard box or carrier.
At Least Getting a Labeling Solution Can be Easy
Creating labels that meet legal requirements is stressful, but applying those labels doesn’t have to be. When you need to upgrade your labeling system, contact CTM Labeling Systems. Our distributors will work with you to find a solution that delivers the speed and quality you need. We offer equipment for a wide range of containers, from small vials to shipping containers and industrial pails.