Food Labeling Tips and Lessons From Recalls & the KIND Bar Label Thing

The Internet Went Wild When the FDA Issued KIND a List of Labeling Violations

popular meal and snack bars 2015
••• Susie Wyshak

Updated November 2015

You know your food company is wildly popular (or envied) when every major news outlet covers a story. And so KIND Bars responded to its fans after the following letter from the FDA, along with a bevy of press from NPR, CBS, USA Today and others. Not to mention on the Twitter #kindbars hashtag.

That letter said:

"The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewed the labels for your Kind Fruit & Nut Almond & Apricot, Kind Fruit & Nut Almond & Coconut, Kind Plus Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein, and Kind Plus Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew + Antioxidants products in August, 2014....We examined your website in October 2014...Based on our review, we have concluded that these products are in violation..."

And the letter goes on into specific details of the messaging violations.

The downside for KIND: Expensive packaging changes. Very expensive.

The upside: A lot of visibility and discussion about the merits of KIND Bars.

There's an Even Bigger Reason To Match Your Food Labels With the Product

It's one thing to misuse the FDA's definition of "healthy" on a food package. It's quite another, perhaps the ultimate fear and hazard of running a food business, to be subject to a recall due to labeling issues.

As you plan your food products and ingredients, know that labels touting a food as "natural" or "all-natural" may be targeted for investigating more often than those starting a food is organic.

Food product recalls are not only expensive, involving the destroying product, but time-consuming with communication expenses as well. Recalls can make or break your food business, whether you experience issues with own food or an ingredient you depend on. For manufacturers using peanut butter,

Recalls due to undeclared allergens in products are a huge problem. Problems may range from improper processing to gluten found in gluten-free products to packaging and labeling errors to ingredients used that turned out to have a recall.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) sends out emails that report even the smallest food product recalls. For example:

  • approximately 16,722 pounds of various beef and chicken products recalled due to adulteration, misbranding and undeclared allergens
  • approximately 50,953 pounds of pork and beef products recalled due to misbranding
  • approximately 15,600 pounds of pork tamales and other foods recalled due to misbranding and undeclared allergens such as hydrolyzed soy protein, which did not appear on the label

Small-batch Food Processors Are Not Immune To Traceability and Recalls

A news release went out announcing a recall of “approximately 32 pounds of beef jerky product due to a processing deviation.”—despite this jerky only being sold at one store.

According to the announcement, “The problem was discovered by FSIS inspectors during a food safety assessment; it was found that the product is susceptible to environmental pathogens and therefore potentially harmful if consumed.”

Because of the scope and cost of dealing with recalls, not to mention the Food Safety Modernization Act, larger food, and beverage companies often have their own traceability and recall system in place. In fact, most large food retailers require a traceability system.

Food manufacturers track food production batches to be able to isolate issues to a range of batches, with serial numbers and dates, minimizing the scope of a recall to also minimize the number of people impacted by food safety problems.

Costs of a Food Recall

If you're thinking of a DIY label or skipping a review by a lawyer, consider the following costs involved with a recall:

  • Loss of food itself
  • The cost of notifying resellers who may have purchased the food about the recall
  • The cost of helping the resellers reach out to consumers who have purchased the food
  • Processing returns and replacements
  • Manufacturing the new food

That's just the start of your potential costs. There's the reputation thing, time and energy you could be spending growing the business.

Product Recall Insurance Protects Food Companies

Product Recall Insurance is available and especially worth considering if you are making claims related to allergens or producing foods subject to safety issues like listeria or eco lip.

A good way to decide if the investment in product recall insurance is worth it is to weigh:

  • the downside risk that your labels or manufacturing process might involve undeclared allergens (or other issues)
  • with the cost of insurance and the probability of recalls and
  • the size of the recall (based on your batch sides and distribution), if a recall does occur

The Bottomline

You can never be too careful when writing and designing your food product labels.

  • Hire a lawyer who specializes in food and eats and breathes FDA regulations to review the labels.
  • Worth with designers experienced in food product labels. You might think that a designer can learn about food packaging as she or he goes. But the FDA has very specific rules of how what and where label text needs to be positioned, not to mention in text and label size. Is a designer's learning curve worth what you might save—and what you might risk?
  • Triple check before hiring a co-packer that, if you're making nutritional claims especially related to allergens, to learn what other foods are made using the same equipment, machinery, and utensils.

    The more you can avoid using the words the FDA flags as vague and misleading, the easier your food label journey will be.

    Disclaimer:  The information contained in this article is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. You should not act on the basis of any content included in this article without seeking legal or other professional advice. The contents of this article contain general information and may not reflect current legal developments or address your situation. The author and sources disclaim all liability for actions you take or fail to take based on any content on this article.