WASHINGTON -- Makers of food products that carry the descriptor "healthy" on the label have less than one year left to comply with regulations on how they may characterize the contents.
By the end of 1995, unless the products meet certain criteria set by the Food and Drug Administration, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this term will no longer be allowed to describe the products.
The rules became effective as of May 1994 for any new product or for any product that had not previously used the term. Products currently using the term "healthy" have approximately one year left to meet the guidelines -- products that fall under the USDA's jurisdiction have until Nov. 10, 1995, and those regulated by the FDA have until Jan. 1, 1996. According to an FDA official, this ruling applies to the use of the word "in the name as well as its use as a product descriptor."
"Eating a healthy diet is a goal for millions of Americans trying to take responsibility for their own well-being," said FDA Commissioner David A. Kessler, M.D. "These rules make that easier. When a food is labeled 'healthy,' people will know it's low in fat and saturated fat and has restricted sodium."
In order to call a food "healthy," it must be low in fat and saturated fat and contain limited amounts of cholesterol, and provide a minimum of 10% of the Daily Value of one or more of six nutrients per serving. These include vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein and fiber. If the product is considered an entree or meal-type product, it must contain at least 10% of two or more of these nutrients based on product size. This means that a product must contain no more than three grams of fat per serving, or reference amount, and if it is a meal or a main dish, the fat calories must not exceed 30% of the total.
The FDA and USDA also restrict the level of sodium allowed in "healthy" foods. Both of these agencies will limit sodium to no more than 480 mg of sodium per serving, 600 mg in meals. These levels take effect at the same time as the rest of the regulation, but will be lowered to 360 mg per serving and 480 per serving for meals two years after that. Compliance dates are January 1998 for the FDA foods and November 1997 for USDA products.