The Legal Requirements for Labels on Products and Packaging

Published on May 21, 2023

Ice cream label with new legal requirement

The packaging labels you see on products of all kinds, result from detailed laws regulated by multiple government agencies. These laws ensure that the end customers have the essential information to decide whether to buy the product. The information required on product labels differs by category but can broadly be categorized under its identity, manufacturer, quantity, uses, and safety warnings.

Several legal acts in the US regulate the packaging of products sold there. A manufacturer has to ensure that their product packaging abides by all the regulations that are relevant to that product. Let’s check out some legal requirements for labels on products, packaging, and the rules governing them. 

The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act 

The FPLA from 1967 is the most important set of laws that defines the legal requirements for packaging labels. The major consumer protection agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), use the FPLA as the legal guidelines to create their regulations.

The main purpose of the FPLA is to prevent deceptive product labeling that seeks to take advantage of average customers and to help customers make value comparisons between different products in the same category. It has three basic requirements: identification of the product, the name and address of the manufacturer or importer, and the number of products in appropriate measures such as weight and count mentioned in metric and inch/pound units. 

The Uniform Packaging and Labeling Regulation

The Uniform Packaging and Labeling Regulation was first declared in 1952 during the 37th National Conference on Weights and Measures (UPLR). Also included in the Uniform Laws and Regulations in the areas of Legal Metrology and Engine Fuel Quality of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Handbook 130, the UPLR guidelines have been adopted into state law by 45 out of the 50 US states. 

They are written to provide accurate information about the contents and quantity of a consumer product and allow customers to make fair comparisons between two products of the same kind. The UPLR requires a product package to declare its identity, the name and address of its manufacturer, and the quantity of the product in relevant terms of measure. However, the UPLR allows for metric-only labeling on its products on products that the FPLA does not regulate. For non-consumer products, the UPLR allows the quantities to be labeled in metric or foot/pound units. 

Some Regulatory Agencies and Their Labeling Requirements

FDA Package Label Rules

The FDA regulates most food products besides meats and agricultural goods. It has a few key additions to the standard labeling requirements related to identification and net quantity. Most significantly, this includes a nutrition facts label, which must be in household units of measure, providing the amount per serving and the servings per package. Besides this, food product packaging must have a barcode and the product’s expiration date. 

Since food companies make many nutritional and health claims about their products as a marketing strategy, the FDA also has detailed regulations about nutritional claims on labels to ensure that they do not mislead the customer. 

USDA Package Label Rules

Meanwhile, as regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), agricultural products also require products under its jurisdiction to provide handling statements that inform buyers of handling and storage requirements to maintain a wholesome condition, such as keeping it refrigerated or frozen. Special handling requirements related to customer safety also have to be included, which refers to raw labels and statements to cook food fully to avoid health issues. Most importantly, products overseen by the USDA must prominently display symbols that signify they passed the USDA inspection. 

FCC Package Label Rules

The Federal Communications Commission regulates all communication from the US by electronic means such as radio, television, cable, etc. The FCC 47 CFR Part 15 regulates consumer products, specifically electronic devices sold in the US. Under this regulation, every new electronic product model has to go through an authorization procedure known as the Supplier’s Declaration of Conformity (SDoC). Products that receive this authorization, first and foremost, must provide the product’s name and model number on the label, alongside a statement that the product complies with 47 CFR Part 15. Different consumer electronic products must also include operating costs, energy consumption, and energy efficiency on the label. 

FTC Requirements for Clothing Products

Under the Textile, Wool, and Fur Act, the FTC has set out the basic requirements to come with clothing products. Besides the identity of the manufacturer or a Registered Identification Number for the importer, clothing items must reveal their fiber content and care instructions on the label. A product containing less than 5 percent fibers should be labeled “Other Fibers”. For wool products, though, fibers under 5 percent have to be detailed fully. Care instructions for clothing items must be labeled in a durable way that cannot wear off soon. Clothing made from imitation leather has to reveal this fact, including the type of imitation leather used. The FTC also requires imported products of all kinds to provide the country of origin on its label. 

CPSIA Requirements for Child Safety

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) has some important requirements for product labeling concerning child safety. A major rule is that all products designed for children aged up to 12 must compulsively carry a CPSIA tracking label. This tracking label is placed so products not child-safety can quickly be tracked and removed from the market. Products must warn customers of choking hazards for children if they contain small parts. 

Requirements Under The Federal Hazardous Substance Act 

The Federal Hazardous Substance Act (FHSA) is a major law that regulates the use, sale, and restriction of products with potentially harmful or toxic components. Under the FHSA, though, products are required to notice any harmful substances included in them. Additionally, these products must inform customers of the potentially harmful effects of contact with these substances and provide instructions for first aid in the case of such an exposure.