Packaging Regulations

A BRIEF HISTORY OF PACKAGING REGULATIONS

Mike Gondek, Design Implementation Artist
Mike Gondek, Design Implementation Artist
May 6, 2016
We all see on a daily basis consumer products with net weights, statements of identity and distribution statements. Who regulates the size, position, verbiage, readability, typography, claims and other labeling standards on consumer packaging? I recently hosted an agency-wide lunch and learn session on packaging design regulations and wanted to share some of the presentation with you.
history of packaging regulations

Who Regulates Packaging?

Numerous government agencies are tasked with regulating the labeling of consumer packaging. Each of these may demand product recall or send a warning letter. Minor violations request a packaging update within a time period. Major violations demand product removed from shelf. Crossover exists among agencies on certain products, such as seafood, eggs & country of origin.  The physical names of the government agencies may imply a sole responsibility exists for a product area, but that is only an area of specialization. Some agencies have regulations that cover all products. The NIST handbook is much more thorough on how to properly display the net contents on a package and crosses most all consumer packaging. The NIST regulations are often overlooked by packaging design agencies, as a result inconsistencies occur. Milliliters is mL, millions of liters (megalitre) is ML. The list below does not cover all regulatory agencies, but please click on them for more information.

Why the Packaging Industry Lacks Better Regulation?

Very few design schools teach labeling design regulations, though this is vital for designers to know to avoid product recall. The government agencies also do not have classes or official certifications. The USDA can be of the most difficult to design within packaging regulations, as the graphical and verbiage requirements are not all in one place, and we do not have access to all of them. The USDA and TTB do review labels and approve them, while the FDA, AAFCO & FTC do not review labels. Having a packaging layout artist experienced in the regulations will reduce time lost in resubmitting your label for review, or face the implications of a recall. Most people think of the Nutrition Facts panel when labeling consumer products, but there are many more issues and this video covers some of those.

Many brand owners fear calling regulatory agencies in drawing unnecessary attention to their products. Smaller companies often attempt to fly under the radar, and often have more regulatory issues than national brands who have a trained quality control staff. The FDA most often does not share or publish labeling violations with the exception of KIND Bars. Ownership for responsible labeling often does not happen, until after an incident. When warning or recalls are issued, most everyone keeps that confidential and therefore others do not learn the consequences or what details can be seen as improper labeling.

“Without regulation there would be much more misleading content on packaging.”

The Cost, Frequency and Impact of Recalls

Products are most often recalled for an undeclared allergen or a bacteria as salmonella. Labeling violations are also very common, but they are not all published online.  A warning letter gives a certain amount of time to correct minor issues, and those products end up in the clearance section to help move that product and avoid fines and penalties. There are also voluntary recalls, such as Sudafed, when the word “NOT NOT” appeared twice in the directions.

Why Packaging Needs Regulation

Without regulation there would be much more misleading content on packaging.  A look at history may best explain how far we have come, why our products and food are safer and how labeling has played an important role.

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