From Vending Market Watch – Linda Furlano Shares An Insiders Perspective On The FDA Labeling Guidelines And Why The Letter NAMA Sent Is So Important DEC 6, 2017
Linda Furlano, vice president of administrations at A.H. Management Group knows firsthand about food labeling. She has been working with the vending division of this large foodservice company to update labels to comply with the U.S. Food And Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines for the Nutrition Facts Label. This label must be updated and put on all edible products made by the company. In addition, Furlano has been working on a front-of-pack (FOP) Calorie Disclosure label, which must be placed on all products sold in vending machines.
It has already been a challenge, but the lack of clear guidelines and requirements makes the process nearly impossible.
“The cost of getting all the ingredients together to find out what the calorie content per item is has been substantial,” said Furlano in an interview with VendingMarketWatch.com. “We have a menu of over 500 items that is ever changing and evolving. It takes a lot of work to ensure the list of ingredients and calorie counts are accurate.” Once the calorie and nutritional information is found, it must be put on the label, and this is where the extended deadline is so important. According to Furlano, the FDA originally gave the industry until December 2017 to start placing FOP calorie disclosures of a certain size and prominence on all items sold in vending machines. However, the FDA neglected to indicate specifics, such as the font size and color. These are important considerations as changing labels is expensive and affects the visibility of the product.
“The front of pack labeling for the fresh food that we produce has already changed sized,” said Furlano. “Before the consumer saw half the product in the machine. Now practically the entire item is covered by the label.” Even with this change, there is no guarantee that the label is sufficient to comply with the FDA guidelines, which might mean more changes. “We have really been trying to comply – however, we are in limbo,” added Furlano.
An extension of the compliance date would allow the FDA to finalize the font requirements of the FOP labeling and also allow time for any operator who makes food in a commissary to work through the inventory in their warehouse that may not have the right type of labeling.
In addition to fresh food, gum and mint packaging are also included in the request for an extension on compliance. For vending machine operators like Furlano, having a large calorie count displayed on vending-sized gum and mint items would mean the entire package is covered. Furlano is hoping the FDA will agree to a note on the machine that indicates all gum and mints are 25 calories or less, instead of the information having to be on each individual product.
NAMA has been essential
Furlano is optimistic that the FDA will grant the compliance deadline extension. She has found the FDA to be receptive and respectful to the concerns brought up by the industry. “We have a really good working relationship with the FDA,” said Furlano. She attributes this to efforts by NAMA. ” I want to stress how important NAMA has been to us – all operators really. We have been working on this for years. A lot of hard work has already gone into getting this far. NAMA was and is someone we can call on to get support at the national level.”
On November 21, NAMA sent an official letter requesting that the FDA extend the compliance date for front-of-package (FOP) Calorie Labeling on products sold in vending machines to align with the FDA’s proposed extension of the Nutrition Facts Label. The letter also states that: “This extension will provide vending company owners and operators the ability to continue to rely on FOP labeling to meet the FDA’s requirements set forth for calorie disclosure on vended products in its August 1, 2016 Constituent Update; and manufacturers will be able to streamline their packaging redesign process and reduce consumer confusion. Additionally, since the font size for FOP calorie disclosure for vended items has not been formally resolved, we ask that the FDA set the font size for FOP calorie disclosure on items sold from vending machines, provide flexible signage for calorie labeling for gum, mints and roll candies, and clarify multi-serve FOP calorie declaration as soon as possible through notice-and-comment rulemaking or through an interim final rule (whichever FDA believes is procedurally appropriate).”
To see NAMA’s full letter to the FDA, click here: http://bit.ly/2zNRqzc .
Furlano has confidence in the relationship the industry has forged with the FDA, especially NAMA. “It’s really impressive to see the FDA listening to us and that they aren’t just making decisions without thoughtful input from the industry those decisions affect,” she added. She hopes for a positive outcome that will be beneficial for all parties involved.