WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration is allowing temporary flexibility in food labeling requirements for manufacturers experiencing difficulty sourcing some ingredients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The temporary guidance allows for minor formulation changes without updating labels.
“Our goal is to provide regulatory flexibility, where fitting, to help minimize the impact of supply chain disruptions associated with the current COVID-19 pandemic on product availability,” the agency said.
Changes should be consistent with several factors:
Safety: The ingredient being substituted for the labeled ingredient does not cause any adverse health effect, including food allergens, gluten, sulfites or other ingredients known to cause sensitivities in some people;
Quantity: Generally present at 2% or less by weight of the finished food;
Prominence: The ingredient being substituted or omitted for the labeled ingredient is not a major ingredient (for example, replacing rice flour with wheat flour in a muffin) or an ingredient that is the subject of a label statement (for example, butter in a cookie with a ‘made with real butter’ claim);
Characterizing or ingredient in name: The ingredient being omitted or substituted for the labeled ingredient is not a characterizing ingredient (for example, omitting raisin in a raisin bread), where the presence of the ingredient has a material bearing on consumer purchasing;
Claims: An omission or substitution of the ingredient does not affect any voluntary nutrient content or health claims on the label; and
Nutrition/function: An omission or substitution of the labeled ingredient does not have a significant impact on the finished product, including nutritional differences or functionality.
Examples of permissible formulation changes include reducing or omitting a vegetable, like green peppers, from a vegetable quiche that contains small amount of multiple vegetables, replacing bleached flour with unbleached flour, substituting canola oil for sunflower oil, or substituting malic and citric acid for one another. Other examples include substituting an artificial raspberry flavor for an artificial berry flavor, using colors that are not subject to certification in place of certified colors, or using different varieties of the same ingredient.
The FDA also lifted some front-of-package calorie information requirements for vending machine operators.