Complying with U.S. Labelling

March 7, 2022

There is a common misconception that because we are on the same continent, we can send our Canadian packaging without having to comply with the labeling requirements of our American neighbors.  However, being able to export our products to the U.S. should be considered a privilege, not a right that Canadians have.  As is the case in Canada, packaging must comply with the regulations of the country where the product is sold.  Here are some important elements to consider when we want to sell a product in the United States. 

In which jurisdiction is the product regulated?  

Food products can be regulated under different jurisdictions in the United States.  It is important to distinguish between them in order to comply with the requirements of each department. Meat, poultry and egg products are regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), products containing alcohol are regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) and other food products are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is important to know that the FDA and the USDA have different approaches to ensuring packaging compliance. The USDA has a pre-approval process for packaging for products under their jurisdiction. It should be noted that not all packaging must be pre-approved. Many packages can be given a generic approval (which does not require approval), which avoids delays. What makes your package eligible for generic approval is the information on the package. For example, if your package contains a certification logo or carries a gluten-free claim, it will need government approval before it can be used. The FDA, on the other hand, leaves it up to companies to comply with the regulations, as is the case in Canada.  Some products may be randomly selected at customs and subject to inspection.  If your products are found to be non-compliant with U.S. regulations, inspectors have the power to stop your products at customs and ask you to bring them into compliance before they can cross the border, which adds up to several weeks of delay. For products containing alcohol, the TTB works with label approvals.  There is a delay in getting through this process.

Is the product a standardized food?

Like Canada, the United States has standardized foods with established compositional standards that must be met. It is always important to check if the product has a standard of identity and if the requirements are met, if so, the food will have to bear that name. Also note that just because a product can have a name in Canada does not mean that it can automatically be used in the importing country. For example, “ham omelette”, to bear this name in the United States, the product must contain a minimum of 18% ham, whereas in Canada there is no established standard for this product.

Does your Nutrition Facts table meet the requirements?

One of the major reasons we cannot use the same packaging for Canada and the United States is the content of the Nutrition Facts table. Because the graphic requirements are different, it is impossible to have the same packaging for a product for which nutrient values must be declared.  It is not enough to remove the French from the Canadian Nutrition Facts table to make it compliant.  There are differences in the graphics, but also in the mandatory nutrients. 

Does your package contain a foreign language?

In the U.S., the official language is English, and this is the language that must be used on packaging.  If you decide to include a language in addition to English (French or Spanish, for example), all mandatory information required by the regulations must be bilingual. The nutritional table is no exception and will also need to be translated.  

More than that… The differences are not limited to those mentioned above, depending on your product and its packaging, some additional requirements may apply, whether it is the location of certain elements or additional mandatory mentions. You will need to ensure that all necessary information and the location of the required elements are in compliance with the U.S. regulations.  

Although products are not systematically inspected at customs, it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure that its packaging complies with the regulations in effect.     

Our Food Labelling team also specialises in U.S. regulation. Our team members can help you understand the changes you need to make to your packaging. Contact us for more information!

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