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Clearing Up Confusion: The Net Quantity of Contents Declaration on Food Labels

By Robert A. Hahn

The FDA’s food labeling regulations include some traps for the unwary.  A few of those traps have to do with the net quantity of contents declaration.

Here are a couple of points to keep in mind when declaring a food product’s net contents:

  • When the net contents declaration is expressed in terms of weight, FDA requires that the declaration include the words “Net weight” or the abbreviation “Net Wt.” However, when the net contents is expressed in fluid measure or numerical count, use of the words “Net” or “Net Contents” is optional.  21 C.F.R. § 101.105(j)(3), (n).  NOTE: In 1993, FDA proposed to remove the requirement to include the words “Net Weight” or “Net Wt,” but the proposed rule was withdrawn in 2004.  See 58 Fed. Reg. 29716, 29724 (May 21, 1993) and 69 Fed. Reg. 68831 (Nov. 26, 2004).  FDA’s current position is that the prefatory language “Net weight” or “Net Wt” is required when the net contents is expressed in terms of weight.  The abbreviation “Net Wt” is frequently presented in all upper case letters, e., “NET WT.”
  • Although FDA regulations continue to provide that a separate statement of the net contents in metric measure is optional (21 C.F.R. § 101.105(p)), the fact is that the net contents declaration, with very limited exceptions for random weight packages and for foods packaged in a retail store, must be expressed in both avoirdupois measure (g., ounce, pound, fluid ounce, pint, quart) and metric measure (e.g., milligram, gram, milliliter, liter). The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA) was amended in 1992 to require use of metric measure (15 U.S.C. § 1453(a)(2)), but FDA has never amended its regulations to implement this statutory change.  Nevertheless, the FPLA is the law.
  • FDA requires that the net contents declaration use the largest appropriate unit of measure.  For example, 24 oz should be expressed as “1.5 lb,” “1 ½ lb,” or “1 lb 8 oz,” and 1,100 mL should be expressed as “1.1 L.”  Again, the FPLA was amended to require use of the largest appropriate unit of measure, but FDA has not amended its own regulations to reflect the statutory change.  NOTE: “Dual avoirdupois” declaration (i.e., expressing the net contents in avoirdupois measure using both the largest appropriate unit of measure and ounces or fluid ounces, as, for example, “1.5 lb (24 oz) 680 g”) is permitted as an option to facilitate value comparisons by consumers.

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