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WASHINGTON -- Jan. 1, 2006 marked the official date for trans fat and allergen labeling to be required, but not every gram of trans fat in products on retailers' shelves will be labeled clearly yet, due to an extension recently issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
On Dec. 30, the FDA issued a revised final guidance for "Requesting an Extension to Use Existing Label Stock after the Trans Fat Labeling Effective Date of Jan. 1, 2006." (The extension did not include allergen labels.) The FDA said it has defined five factors it intends to consider for extension requests, including whether the declared label value for trans fat is 0.5 grams or less per serving.
Additionally, firms are expected to use their existing labels for no longer than 12 months from the date the agency issues a letter back to the firm, which means not all trans fats will be clearly identified on products for at least a year. The FDA said it will consider requests on a case-by-case basis.
Another reason why retailers are still selling products without trans fat or allergen labeling is that packaged foods companies were allowed to send products to retailers with the unmodified labels until Dec. 31.
The Food Consulting Company, a Del Mar, Calif.-based group that specializes in the preparation of regulation-compliant food label components, continues to receive calls from companies who are asking for help in how to use their existing label stock that does not include both the trans fat and allergen labeling requirements, said Karen Duester, president of the Food Consulting Company.
"In general, companies are asking if they can legally dispute their current label inventory before printing new labels. They often have more questions about the allergen labeling requirements than they do the trans fat labeling requirements," Duester told Progressive Grocer. "For example, they want to know if they're required to list the potential presence of allergens that are not intentionally added to the product, if [the allergens] are used in the manufacturing plant or if their product is made on the same line. (The answer is no. Some manufacturers choose to do this for their own legal protection.)"
The FDA's allergen labeling requirements mandate that eight major potential allergens must be identified. The allergens are tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, peanuts, soybeans, and wheat. Many of the allergens had been voluntarily listed but under less recognizable names such as casein and whey, which are both milk products.
The FDA is looking into additional labeling requirements for the future, including possibly requiring more realistic calorie counts.