New Labels for Single-Serving Food Containers Urged


CSPI Wants Labels to Reflect Consumption Realities

October 28, 2004

Many single-serving food and drink containers are misleadingly labeled as several servings, despite some companies’ recent moves to relabel single-serve products. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says that the steady growth in sizes of soft drinks, snack cakes, candy bars, and other foods that are clearly meant for one person to consume in a single sitting is helping fuel the obesity epidemic. Today, the nonprofit food-safety and nutrition watchdog group formally petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to update its labeling rules so consumers can easily see exactly how many calories they’re getting in single-serve bottles and packages.

Coca-Cola, Kraft, and PepsiCo have begun to display the calories and other nutrients in the entire package of their larger single-serving containers, or to provide nutrition information both for a standard serving and the entire package. But since the food companies that are updating their labels voluntarily are doing so in a variety of ways, CSPI wants the FDA to promulgate uniform rules.

“Consumers deserve to be able to see at a glance how many calories or how much fat or sugar there is in a single-serving container,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “Requiring food manufacturers to play by the same rules would help consumers compare apples to apples when comparison shopping on the basis of nutrition.”

Some single-serving containers that are misleadingly labeled as multiple servings include:

  • 24-ounce Coca-Cola. Although Coke is relabeling 16- and 20-ounce bottles of soda, it’s new 24-ounce bottle is clearly intended for one person to drink. (“It’s BIG! For those who thirst for more,” reads the bottle.) The label claims the bottle provides three 100-calorie servings, but many consumers would drink all 300 calories in one sitting.
  • Safeway Chicken Caesar Salad. Clearly meant for one, this salad comes with one fork. But because the label claims the container has three and a half servings, the nutrition information makes the salad look far healthier than it is. Many label readers might think this salad has 240 calories and 21 grams of fat, when in fact it has 840 calories and 73 grams of fat.
  • Maruchan Ramen Noodle Soup. This college staple looks small, and the nutrition numbers on the label are for just half the package. The whole package has 400 calories as opposed to 200—and a whopping 1,420 mg of sodium as opposed to 710.
  • 3.5-ounce Chex Mix. This General Mills snack would be a prime candidate for a dual-column Nutrition Facts panel, according to CSPI. The bag is small enough to fit in a vending machine, yet contains 3.5 servings. The bag has 455 calories, not the 130 calories the label lists for a “serving.”

CSPI called on the FDA to require beverages up to 24 ounces and baked goods up to six ounces to be labeled as single-servings. For snack foods in packages up to four ounces, such as chips or small cookies, food makers could use a dual-column Nutrition Facts panel that displays numbers both for the standard serving size for that food, and for the entire package. CSPI also asked that packages that use the dual-column Nutrition Facts panel declare the number of servings on the front.

A 2.25-ounce bag of Kraft’s Ritz Chips, for instance, could be eaten by one person in one sitting, or shared. That package already employs a dual-column label. Hostess does something similar on a 2.4-ounce bag of six mini muffins. Things that aren’t so easily shared, and that are clearly intended for one, like individual bottles of soda and hard-to-divide cookies or muffins, should just display the values for the whole package, says CSPI.

The FDA’s obesity task force has already indicated that labeling regulations for single-serve products should be reexamined, and the agency is expected to propose a draft rule at some point. CSPI says that while the rule-making process continues, the FDA should use its existing enforcement authority to crack down on the most egregious examples of misleading labeling.

“Making a dent in the obesity epidemic requires government action on many fronts,” said Jacobson. “Giving people a better idea what they’re getting in these increasingly huge ‘single-servings’ is a small step, but an easy one that the FDA should take without delay.”

 

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