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How to Label and Ship Food Products Like a Pro

Labeling and shipping food items like a pro.

Once you mastered the recipe for your handmade goods, you're ready to make some money. Your website is set up, your packaging is designed and ready to go, but you're worried about properly labeling and shipping your delectable creation to customers.

Have no fear, food artists. We've got everything you need to know about selling and shipping perishable products.

Basics of Food Labeling

Food labels should tell a story. Like the branding of any other product, food should make people feel a certain way (before they have the opportunity to taste it).

Ask yourself, "How do I want my customers to feel about purchasing MY popcorn, versus the popcorn from my competitor?" Are you going for a modern-retro vibe or an organic-hipster feel?

Determining this is the fun part, and the options are endless ... and so is the variety of professional-quality food and drink labels!

But with all the federal labeling regulations to abide by, this process can be scary to many entrepreneurs. Navigating the FDA website and applying their rules to your specific product/scenario isn't easy, so we've done all the hard research and laid it out in this super-simple, easy-to-follow guide.

FDA Food Label Requirements

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for regulating foods sold in the United States. It has mandated a series of rules and regulations for food and drink product labeling designed to protect consumers. Below, we've outlined five of the most critical elements your food product label must contain.

Statement of identity.

Oikos yogurt example of FDA requirement: statement of identity

This tells the consumer what they're buying. You're free to name your product something fun or fanciful, but to be FDA-compliant, you must also list the standard/common name of your product.

In other words, no matter what you name your homemade chocolate chip cookies, it has to say 'chocolate chip cookies' on the label as well. If it's not a common food (i.e. it's something you created), try to describe the product as best you can.

Graphic requirements: In addition to listing the standardized food name, the FDA requires that it's at least half the size of the largest text on your label (or larger, depending on the context), written in bold text, and featured prominently on the front panel.

Net weight or contents statement.

Oikos yogurt example of FDA requirement: net contents

The net quantity of contents is the weight, measure, or numerical count of your product. It can also be expressed in combination, specifically as the numerical count and the weight or the numerical count and the measure.

Graphic requirements: Your net content statement must be in bold text, included in the bottom 30% of the front of your label, have plenty of surrounding free space, and run parallel to the base of your packaging.

Examples:

  • NET WT 12 OZ (340g)
  • NET WT 24 OZ (1 LB 8 OZ) 680g
  • NET 8 FL OZ (237mL)

Nutrition facts panel.

Oikos yogurt example of FDA requirement: nutrition facts

This includes the nutrition information for your product. Most edible products require nutrition fact labels on the packaging, however, small businesses that meet a specific list of criteria are exempt from such requirements (discussed in the Exceptions section below as well).

Getting this info is probably one of the most stressful parts for most food creators, but it doesn't have to be. If your product needs a nutrition fact panel, find out how to get your nutrition information. There are a number of organizations that provide nutritional analysis and/or offer regulatory support.

Once you know the details, use our nutrition label generator to create the panel.

Graphic requirements: The nutrition fact label can be placed in whatever layout/orientation is best for your packaging. This can include vertical, side-by-side, horizontal, or linear.

Based on space and size limitations, you may opt for the full format nutrition label or a simplified version. Regardless of which format you select, the formatting of both the text and table is a very specific element that must be followed.

Ingredients list.

Oikos yogurt example of FDA requirement: ingredients statement

For the safety of consumers, food manufacturers must list all ingredients used to create their product.

Of course, there are several exceptions to this requirement. For example, if you're selling something that's just one ingredient – like nuts or honey – there's no need to list ingredients on the label. But if you've added seasoning to the nuts or sweeteners to the honey, it would be necessary to include ingredients on the label.

This includes the sub-ingredients used as well. If you're listing ketchup as an ingredient, you must also declare the ingredients used in the creation of the ketchup.

You will also need to list any allergen statements in this section. There are eight foods believed to account for 90% of all U.S. food allergies (milk, egg, fish, Crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, and soybeans). If your product contains one of those leading allergens, the specific allergen must be identified in the ingredients list or directly beneath the ingredients list in a 'Contains:' statement.

Graphic requirements: All ingredient statements must be listed in descending order of predominance by weight. This means the heaviest ingredients should be listed first.

Any allergen statements must be given the same prominence in comparison, or more. The ingredient statement must be placed immediately beneath or contiguous and to the right of the nutrition facts panel.

Name and address.

Oikos yogurt example of FDA requirement: name and business of business

Food labels must provide consumers with the location of the business, whether you are the manufacturer or distributor. This "signature" as it has come to be known in the industry, is your standard mailing address: business name, street address, city, state/province, and ZIP.

If you plan to list an address other than that of the manufacturer, a clarifying statement must precede it (distributed by, imported by, etc.).

Graphic requirements: This information must be located in a conspicuous place on the label together with the other mandatory information and follow the same prominence requirements as the ingredient/allergen statements.

Expiration date.

This differs between states and organizations. If you're shipping your item using Amazon FBA, you're required to list an expiration date on the box and on each individual unit.

Double check your state's laws and any marketplace requirements to ensure your packaging meets each one's individual requirements.

Exceptions

"The rules and laws vary greatly from state to state, and from type of food business," says Damian Roberti, owner of The Brittle Box Candy Co. and founder of Marketing Food Online. "These laws not only govern the sale and production of food at home, but the venues where to sell them."

It's also important to note that some rules don't apply to startups. Various states have what are called Cottage Food Laws, which offer exemptions to home-based food creators (who meet certain criteria).

Exemptions can include needing a commercial-grade kitchen or providing a nutritional analysis on the product.

Packaging and Labeling for Shipment

Not every food item is labeled or shipped the same. But no matter the product, Roberti suggests always using ice packs (especially in the summertime) and shipping two-day priority. He's found two-day priority service to be the most cost effective, in conjunction with free boxes from USPS.

You can order shipping supplies directly from USPS.com for free – up to 90 at a time, depending on the size.

Once packaging is squared away, you may consider using adhesive labels versus the print-cut-and-tape method. Whether you're selling through your website and using the standard carriers or using online marketplaces like Etsy or eBay, you can find shipping labels at OnlineLabels.com for:

If you're shipping something that may break – like chocolate-covered pretzel sticks – you may also want to add a fragile label to your shipping box. This is especially worth considering if you plan to ship large quantities to companies/supermarkets for resale.

Remember, your business' branding is the first impression your customers get, and packaging/labeling plays a large role in that. Switching from the computer paper, cut-and-tape method to professional shipping labels can really up your game when it comes to first impressions.




While the above guidelines are mainly the basics of labeling, packing, and shipping food, keeping up with local, state, and national regulations is essential to running a successful food-based business. There's a lot to consider, but don't let it overwhelm you.

Start by making a list of what you need to include on your packaging according the each level of regulations. Once you do that, it's time to start shipping!

Looking for more information about food labeling? Learn more about running a home-based food business or making GMO-free claims.

This article was written with the assistance of Carter Regulatory Group. Carter Regulatory Group is a regulatory affairs consulting firm in the food and beverage, cosmetics, dietary supplements, and OTC drugs field. It provides affordable, practical regulatory solutions for multiple markets both domestically and internationally in over 40 countries. Contact Brent at brent@carterregulatorygroup.com or 801-425-8096 to get started.

This article is meant to be used as a labeling guide, it is not an authoritative resource on the latest FDA regulation. At the time of publication (August 2018), the information mentioned above is compliant with state and federal laws. Please be sure to check government databases for updates or revisions as regulations can change frequently. We are not responsible or liable for any actions taken as a result of using the content or resources listed above.