Common name on food labels
Choosing an appropriate common name
The common name of a food is:
- the name printed in boldface type, but not in italics, in the Food and Drug Regulations (for example "orange juice from concentrate", "60% whole wheat bread", "milk chocolate", "mayonnaise"); or
- the name printed in boldface type, but not in italics, in the Canadian standards of identity document or in the Common names for prepackaged fish document incorporated by reference (IbR) in the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (for example "fruit cocktail", "pink salmon"); or
- when not prescribed by regulation, the name by which the food is commonly known or that identifies its function (for example "orange drink", "vanilla cookies", "chocolate cake"", "onion dip")
The name printed in boldface type, but not in italics, in the Food and Drug Regulations
The FDR prescribe standards of composition, strength, potency, purity, quality and other properties for over three hundred foods. These foods are often referred to as "standardized foods". When the names for foods appear in bold face type in the FDR, these names are the prescribed common names and are the only ones permitted to be used to describe the standardized food. Conversely, when a food is formulated to meet a prescribed compositional standard, the prescribed common name, when there is one, must be used. For example, a food that meets the standard for sterilized milk described in B.08.007 of the FDR must bear the common name "sterilized milk" and a food named "sterilized milk" has to meet the standard prescribed.
Sometimes, more than one common name is prescribed for the same food. Usually, all common names shown in boldface type are regarded as synonyms and any one of the names may be used (for example "flour", "white flour", "enriched flour" and "enriched white flour" are considered to be synonymous [B.13.001, FDR]).
Some common names shown in boldface type in the same standard refer to different forms of the same food and are not synonymous (for example "liquid whole egg", "dried whole egg" and "frozen whole egg" are not synonymous [B.22.034, FDR]). In this case, the wording used in the standard clearly makes a distinction between various forms of the same product.
Occasionally, a variation in the spelling from that printed in bold face type in the FDR is permitted. For example, both "tomato catsup" and "catsup" are in boldface type in B.11.014 of the FDR. In this particular standard, it further goes on to mention "or products whose common names are variants of the word catsup" and allows for the spelling "ketchup".
The name printed in boldface type, but not in italics, in specific IbR documents of the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR)
Some common names are prescribed for foods that are not standardized in the FDR. The SFCR also prescribe common names which may not always be found in the FDR. These common names are printed in boldface type, but not in italics, in the Canadian standards of identity document or in the Common names for prepackaged fish document, which are both incorporated by reference (IbR) in the SFCR. For example, "maple syrup" is a common name defined in Volume 6 of the Canadian standards of identity document and "tuna" is a common name identified in the Common names for prepackaged fish document.
Note: The definition of common name in the FDR does not directly prescribe the common names referenced in the SFCR, but rather the names prescribed by any other regulation.
For more information on common names for commodity specific foods, visit the food-specific labelling requirements of the Industry Labelling Tool.
When not prescribed by regulation, the name by which the food is commonly known or that identifies its function
When there is no prescribed name, the common name is that name which is usually used when individuals, speaking English or French, refer to or describe the product (for example peanut butter, Italian dressing, orange flavour crystals, crisp rice cereal, chocolate chip cookies, peppermint candy, etc.). When a food is produced for a specific function, its common name can reflect this (for example leavening aid).
When an established food has a common name, even if it is not prescribed in regulation, it would be misleading to label this food with another name. For example, although "goober" is a commonly used understood term in the southern USA and is defined in Webster's Dictionary as "peanut", "goober" would not be an acceptable common name for a bag of peanuts in Canada as it is not commonly known. There is no objection taken to the supplemental term "goober" provided an acceptable common name is present (for example peanuts).
Avoiding misleading common names
The common name must not be misleading. Common names may mislead consumers by:
- incorporating words unwarranted by the composition of the food (for example "strawberry rhubarb pie" on a pie that contains no strawberries),
- improperly suggesting a place of origin (for example "New Orleans jambalaya" on jambalaya which was not made in New Orleans),
- resembling, directly or phonetically, the name of another product for which it is an imitation or substitute (for example "krab" on an imitation crab product),
- suggesting, directly or phonetically, benefits or results that are not likely to be obtained (for example "diet donuts" on a box of donuts).
Abbreviations, including initials, should not be used if they lead to deception. Generally, the FDR and the SFCR do not permit the use of abbreviations to provide mandatory labelling information except where specified.
Addition of descriptive terms to standardized common names
When a prescribed common name contains several words, additional descriptive words are not permitted to appear between the prescribed words which make up the common name.
- "partially skimmed milk" [B.08.005, FDR] is a prescribed common name, therefore it would not be acceptable to use the common name "partially skimmed Jersey milk". It would however be acceptable to declare "Jersey partially skimmed milk" as the word "Jersey" does not appear between the prescribed words
- "dealcoholized (trademark name) beer" is not an acceptable common name for a dealcoholized beer. The common name "dealcoholized beer" should not be split up by intervening material; therefore, "(trademark name) dealcoholized beer" is more appropriate.
Other deviations from the prescribed common name can occur when the compositional standard permits optional ingredients and when the deviations do not appear between prescribed words which make up the common name. For example, the common names set out in the standard for "potted meat", "meat paste", "meat spread" or "meat pâté" [B.14.033, FDR; Item 18, Table 2, Canadian standards of identity, Volume 7 - Meat products] are synonymous. As the wording "may contain" in Regulations indicates that "spices" are optional ingredients, the common name "spiced potted meat" would be considered acceptable, however, "potted spiced meat" would not be acceptable as the word "spiced" appears between the prescribed words.
Some standards have flexibility with respect to the ingredients and levels of ingredients required in them. The common name may be modified to indicate that an ingredient or constituent is absent or is contained at a specific level in the food (for example "no salt added mayonnaise" or "65% vegetable oil mayonnaise") while still meeting the standard. However, when the modification is also a nutrient content claim, all applicable criteria, including both composition and labelling requirements, must be met. For example, the common name "no salt added mayonnaise" could only be used if the food meets the criteria for "no added sodium or salt" claim as set out in the table following B.01.513 of the FDR (see also Sodium (salt) claims and Summary table for sodium (salt) claims).
Some common names that are acceptable for use in another country are not synonymous with prescribed common names in Canada and, therefore, are not acceptable. For example, the US common name "non-fat dry milk" is not an acceptable common name in Canada to describe "skim milk powder" even though both names refer to the same product [B.08.014, FDR].
Modified standardized common names
A modified common name of a standardized food may not be used to describe a food that does not meet that standard unless the following conditions are met:
- it must always be clear to consumers that the food so described does not meet the standard
- the consumer is told, in all respects, on the label and in advertisements, the way in which the food does not meet the standard. This information must always be in evidence in a clear and prominent manner as part of the common name on labels and in advertisements (for example flavoured shortening, coloured icing sugar).
The resulting food must resemble the standardized food in terms of characteristic taste, appearance and texture.
Some purposes for altering a standardized food are:
- adding flavour, artificial flavour, spices, herbs or seasonings or any other similar ingredient, or
- adjusting the level of a nutrient for the purposes of a nutrient content claim or health claim (for example adding an artificial sweetener to reduce sugar content or adding a thickener to reduce fat content)
An example of an acceptable modification of a standardized common name is "milk chocolate with raisins, hazelnuts and almonds". The standard for milk chocolate does not include raisins, hazelnuts and almonds. The common name indicates that the product complies with the standard for milk chocolate in all respects, except for the addition of raisins, hazelnuts and almonds and is therefore acceptable.
In some cases, the modified common name of the standardized food is not sufficient to describe the differences between the food so designated and the standardized food. An example is "light/lite (naming the standardized food)". The words "light" and "lite" are not sufficient to describe the difference between the food so designated and the standardized food. The use of the words "light" and "lite" is also regulated in the FDR, meaning that they can only be used in certain situations (refer to "Light claims" for more information) [B.01.502, B.01.513, FDR]. Information that describes in all respects how the modified food differs from the standardized food must be shown in a clear and prominent manner on the principal display panel of labels and in advertisements.
Modifying standard names involving nutrient enrichment
Certain foods have mandatory enrichment requirements and it is not acceptable to remove the nutrient from the formulation and change the common name. For example, flour has four interchangeable names: "flour", "white flour", "enriched flour" and "enriched white flour". All four names mean the same thing and in all cases the food must be enriched with thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid and iron. Enrichment is mandatory and therefore it is not acceptable to sell an "unenriched flour", even if the common name is changed.
Some foods, such as pasta, pre-cooked rice, are permitted to be voluntarily enriched. Provided that the FDR permits the optional enrichment of that food and the food is actually enriched, it would be acceptable to modify the common name with a word such as "enriched". For example, pasta is not required to be enriched and, when enriched, it may voluntarily be labelled either as "enriched pasta" or "pasta". Using the word "enriched" triggers the addition of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid and iron in accordance with the table following B.13.052(2) of the FDR. All of these vitamins and mineral nutrients must be added within permitted levels in order to use the word "enriched". Partial enrichment would not be acceptable. [B.13.052(2), FDR].
Kits and mixes
Mixes and kits for foods such as bread, beer, wine, French dressing, etc., that incorporate the common name of a standardized food into their common name, are expected to exhibit the characteristics of the named standard food when prepared according to directions. The prepared food plus the mixes and kits themselves are considered to be unstandardized foods and need not meet the standards.
Distinctive common names
Some names may be protected as geographical indications (GI) under Canadian law. A geographical indication identifies a product as originating in a certain location where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the product is essentially attributable to its geographic origin and is formally recognized as such. The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) is responsible for administering the GI system in Canada. A list of geographical indications eligible for protection and the country of the responsible authority can be found in the List of geographical indications on the CIPO website.
Common names of foods that originate from languages other than English and French
Many names used to describe food products that originate from languages other than English and French are acceptable common names. Some examples of these acceptable names include pizza, taco, perogy, falafel, masa, antipasto, kim chee, yerba mate, jambalaya, baklava, sushi and fusilli.
Although these common names are acceptable on their own, a company may choose to use a descriptive term in conjunction with the common name to provide additional information to consumers about the product. For example, a company may choose to use the descriptive term of "pasta" or "twisted spaghetti" in addition to the common name "fusilli" on a package of fusilli. Any of these terms would be acceptable on their own, or as an accompaniment to the common name "fusilli".
In some cases, a name that originates from a language other than English and French is not acceptable. In order to comply with the definition of common name, products that carry a name that originates from a language other than English and French that are being introduced into the mainstream marketplace and are not commonly known to consumers should provide a descriptive term in conjunction with the common name until it becomes commonly known in the Canadian market. For example, in Slovakia, "kapustnica" is a traditional Christmas soup that is made with sauerkraut, sausages and various spices. As the name "kapustnica" is not commonly known in the Canadian market, "kapustnica" on its own is not acceptable as a common name. However, "sauerkraut soup" or "soup made from sauerkraut, sausages and spices" would be acceptable common names for this product.
Coined, trade and brand names
Generally, coined names, trade names and brand names are not acceptable as common names. In many cases, these terms cannot be translated, in addition to not providing an adequate description of the product identity.
Coined names, trade names, brand names or company names used as brand names are subject to all provisions of the Food and Drugs Act and the Safe Food for Canadians Act, whether or not these names are registered or trade-marked. For example, depending on the impression created, the use of a "natural" claim in a trademark would require the food to which it is applied to meet the guidelines for Nature, natural.
A coined name is a fabricated or invented name which is sometimes given to manufactured foods. A coined name may be a company's trademark, however, since the term has been invented, the coined name generally does not meet the criteria of a common name.
In a few cases, coined names have been accepted as common names for unstandardized foods, generally because they have become known to consumers over a long period of time or are commonly known. For example, this is the case for certain soft drinks that are well known to consumers and have been on the market for a long period of time (for example Pepsi-cola).
Brand or trade names are often used by a single company on several different foods. These names are frequently used to identify the company responsible for the product. By comparison, trademarks identify the company's goods and services. Trade names and trademarks are used to further distinguish products that carry the same brand names.
A trademark may potentially become generic if it becomes so widely known that it describes the entire category of goods. Note that what is generic in one country may not necessarily be generic in another. Trademarks that have become generic over time include kiwifruit and cornflakes.
An imitation food resembles the food imitated in flavour, texture, appearance and nutritional value. A substitute food does not have to physically resemble the food for which it substitutes but it should have the same nutritional qualities.
For example, pollock that has been flavoured and coloured to resemble crab in flavour, texture and appearance and has the same nutritional value as crab can be described as "imitation crab". Similarly, liquid egg whites to which some minor additional ingredients have been added that has the same nutritional qualities as a shelled egg can be described as "egg substitute", even though it does not physically resemble a shelled egg.
Other descriptors may be used provided that it is clear to consumers that the food is an imitation or substitute and is not the food that it is imitating or substituting.
In some cases, the words "imitation", "substitute" or "simulated" may be required to appear as part of the common name. For example, the common name of a simulated meat product must be the common name of the meat product that is simulated, modified by the word "simulated", such as "simulated chicken" [B.01.100(1), FDR].
Many foods that are imitations of another food or substitutes are described by coined names. These names and all descriptions should be used carefully. They must not lead consumers to conclude that the imitation or substitute is genuine. For example, a company uses the coined name "eggtime" on their line of breakfast foods, which includes an egg substitute. The use of the coined name "eggtime" on their egg substitute may mislead consumers to believe that the egg substitute is egg.
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