Pandemic Jolts Federal Policy for Food Labeling

Because of the coronavirus, the Food and Drug Administration has recently issued interim food labeling guidelines, in response to possible supply chain issues and shortages. These guidelines created confusion as to “what’s in, what’s out and what’s new” in food products. As a result, there have been responses and reactions from throughout the food allergy community. From petitions to letters, from comments to FDA to calls for clarity regarding these guidelines, our community has been vocal in response to these changes. And the FDA heard us. The FDA has developed a FAQ page and provided additional guidance to help clarify its new guidelines.

Pandemic Jolts Federal Policy for Food Labeling

Logos of the Coalition to Lobby the FDA for Public Guidelines

Reporting by Patrick Morris
June 20, 2020

If you suffer from a food allergy, a food’s product label is essential reading. It can help determine what foods are safe to eat and which are not. Because of the coronavirus, the FDA recently has issued interim food labeling guidelines, in response to possible supply chain issues and shortages. These changes produced confusion and frustration among numerous allergy suffers. The Allergy Advocacy Association, working with other members of the food allergy community, lobbied the FDA about the possible impact these label guideline changes could have. To provide a better understanding of these interim requirements the FDA has developed a FAQ page.

To review the complete FDA guidelines, please the link listed below.

Temporary Policy Regarding Certain Food Labeling Requirements During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency: Minor Formulation Changes and Vending Machines.

And here is the new FDA FAQs page.

In addition, we were pleased to see that they clarified the "by other means" language and simply put that other allergens also need a label change. We have since confirmed with FDA that the "cannot" language for the top 8 and the "should not" for the other allergens really do carry the same weight and that the label change is a must in all allergen cases.

The guidance also notes that the food industry has "committed to limiting these changes to rare situations and to communicating any substitutions made on a manufacturer's website or at point-of-sale."

And lastly, it does acknowledge that the guidance may need to be extended beyond the public health emergency if supply chain disruptions persist. They do say, "Any extension of the temporary policy will take into account the following: (1) comments received to public dockets for our COVID-19 guidance documents; (2) the nature of the activities for which enforcement discretion was granted; (3) our experience implementing the guidance; and (4) FDA's public health mission and legal obligations."

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