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Making plans for metric labeling.

NLEA rules aren't the only changes food packagers are being called upon to implement in 1994.

While you're working to bring Your Product's nutrition label into compliance with the FDA's regulations under the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, don't forget to figure in plans for going metric. Under the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA), the FDA has proposed requiring food labels to list the net quantity of contents using both the inch-pound (avoirdupois) system and the metric system.

The new metric labeling rules will become effective Feb. 14, 1994, but the FDA has indicated that it does not plan to enforce them until May 8, 1994, when the nutrition labeling regulations under NLEA go into effect. A resolution passed by the National Council on Weights and Measures urges state and local weights and measures officials to give food manufacturers until May 8 to comply with the rule.

Little bit in limbo

Relieved of the burden of having to meet two separate labeling deadlines, food companies are still left hanging because the proposed metric labeling rule has not yet been finalized. The agency is reviewing the public comments it has received on the proposed rule, and will consider them before issuing the final rule. The FDA has no word on when the rule will actually be finalized, but the FDA requires the rule to be in effect on Feb. 14.

According to the FDA's proposal, the quantity of contents must be expressed using both the inch-pound and metric systems, but the inch-pound designation is no longer required to be listed first on all food packages. Either the inch-pound declaration or the metric declaration may be listed first, and products may be sold in either traditional U.S. packages, such as gallons, pounds, quarts and ounces, or in metric-sized packages such as liters and grams. As a rule of thumb, the choice of package size should determine the primary declaration, so that a liter bottle should list the metric declaration first, "1 L (1 qt 1.8 fl oz)," while a gallon container should list the inch-pound measurement first, "1 gal (3.79 L)."

Several organizations, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Metric Association, filed comments with the FDA recommending that metric units always be listed first on food labels. The groups argued that to effectively switch the United States to the metric system, packages should emphasize the metric units of measurement by placing them first on all packaging. They suggested the FDA do away with the dual declaration requirement and make non-metric declarations optional.

"The public's intelligence has been underestimated in the past," said John Woelflein of the U.S. Metric Association. "No one goes to the store to buy a 67.6-fluid ounce bottle of Coke. [People buy] a two-liter bottle."

Other comments, however, supported the dual declaration requirement as an education device to help consumers learn the metric system. For example, Nestle USA told the FDA that U.S. consumers are used to seeing ounces first on food packages, and urged that the FDA continue requiring ounces first on packages containing less than four pounds or one gallon.

The FDA proposed that statements of weight and fluid measure should be expressed as the "largest whole unit" in both inch-pound and metric units. The rest of the measurement should then be stated in common or decimal fractions.

The FDA sought comments on what kind of a rounding procedure it should require for metric and inch-pound conversions. Currently, the agency rounds up at five and above, but is considering allowing food manufacturers to round down at all times so that the label will not overstate the net contents. The FDA also proposed that weights and measures not be carried beyond three decimal places. The agency received comments supporting the use of three or more decimal places in the name of more accurate measure, as well as comments opposing the use of three decimal places on labels as too costly to food companies and too confusing to consumers.

The FDA also proposed eliminating the total ounce declaration on packages containing less than four pounds or one gallon to save label space. Currently, for instance, a 24-oz package must be labeled "24 oz (1 lb 8 oz)." But under the proposed rule, the parenthetical pound-ounce declaration would be replaced with a metric declaration.

Both the terms "net weight" and "net mass" will be optional under the FDA's proposals because the metric declaration will tell consumers whether the declaration is in terms of weight, mass or fluid measure, the agency said.

Multi-unit packages must bear both the inch-pound and metric declarations for the whole package and the number of individual units. For example: 16 1 oz cookies (1 lb)/16 28.3 g cookies (454 g); or frozen juice bars: 6 3 fl oz bars (1 8 fl oz)/6 88.7 mL bars (532 mL).


Foods packaged at the retail level, such as deli and bulk items, are exempt from the proposed metric labeling requirements. Individual serving packages containing less than 1/2 fl oz or I oz and not intended for retail sale also are exempt from the net quantity of contents statement. This includes small packages distributed in restaurants and institutions and on passenger carriers.

For further information, consult the FDA's metric labeling proposal, published in the Federal Register on May 21, 1993. Or call James Taylor, Consumer Safety Officer, FDA's Office of Food Labeling, (202) 205-5229.

The following table lists some of the conversion factors provided by the FDA to ensure consistency among food manufacturers converting inch-pound units to metric units, and vice versa. The FDA stresses that for standardization purposes, the numbers listed on the chart must be used by all companies. For instance, when converting ounces to grams, all food companies must use 28.3495 as the factor, not 28, 28.3 or 28.35.

Metric/inch-pound conversion factors Weight or Mass INCH-POUND
  1 ounce   28.3495 g
  1 pound   453.592 g = 0.454 kg


1 milligram = 0.0000352740 oz

1 gram = 0.0352740 oz

1 kilogram = 2.29462 lb INCH-POUND VOLUME OR CAPACITY

1 fluid ounce = 29.5735 mL

1 liquid pint = 473.177 mL = 0.473177 L

1 liquid quart = 964.353 mL = 0.964353 L

1 dry pint = 550.6100 mL

1 dry quart = 1.101221 L

1 dry pack = 8.809768 L

1 gallon = 3.78541 L

1 bushel = 35.2391 L METRIC VOLUME OR CAPACITY

1 milliliter = 0.0338140 fl oz

1 liter = 1.05669 liq qt

1 liter = 0.264172 gal
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Van Wagner, Lisa R.
Publication:Food Processing
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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