The FDA is relaxing nutrition labeling requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic to allow manufacturers to sell some packaged food that restaurants aren’t buying to retailers experiencing surging demand.

Restaurants, slow on business from closures or in-person dining bans, also can sell packaged ingredients that don’t have Nutrition Facts labels required for retail. The restaurants might sell the goods to their customers or other businesses that will sell the items to consumers. The exception does not apply to food prepared by restaurants.

The flexibility should help food manufacturers with inventory on hand labeled for restaurant use. If processors shift to sell the food lacking the Nutrition Facts label for retail, the FDA says it does not plan to object.

Because many manufacturers practice just-in-time manufacturing, they could have enough ingredients on hand to make additional product but not enough retail packaging, the FDA points out. Manufacturers short on retail packaging can keep producing their products labeled for restaurant use and sell them to retailers until retail packaging is available, the agency advises.

The temporary change, in effect as long as the federal government’s declared public health emergency lasts, is meant to facilitate food distribution during the pandemic, the FDA says.

The food sold for retail can’t have any nutritional claims and must contain other required label information, including:

  • a statement of identity
  • an ingredient statement
  • the name and place of business of the food manufacturer, packer or distributor
  • net quantity of contents
  • required allergen information

Read the FDA’s draft guidance.

The largest food companies were supposed to start using updated Nutrition and Supplement Facts labels with more detail at the start of this year. The FDA says it intends to work cooperatively with manufacturers in 2020 on using the new labels and will not focus on enforcement during that time.