Food products that require a label
On this page
- Labelling requirements
- Information on prepackaged foods
- Information on the definitions of "Sell"
- Non-prepackaged foods that require a label
- Related links
Most prepackaged (definition) foods sold in Canada require that a label (definition) be applied or attached to it [B.01.003, FDR; 214, 217, SFCR]. Additionally, certain non-prepackaged foods require a label when sold in Canada.
Only once a label is required do other labelling requirements apply, such as a list of ingredients or common name. For more information on food labelling requirements, visit the Industry Labelling Tool.
Please note some foods may require a label for traceability purposes; traceability-specific labelling requirements should be consulted for additional details.
Exemptions from the requirement to carry a label
The Food and Drug Regulations (FDR) and the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) provide for exemptions to the requirement to carry a label for the following prepackaged foods:
- One-bite confections that are sold individually [B.01.003(1)(a)(i), FDR; 213(a), SFCR].
- When more than one individual one-bite confection are sold together in the same package, the product sold is not considered to be a one-bite confection. Additionally, lollipops are not considered to be one-bite confections regardless of size, as the stick allows for the lollipop to be eaten in several bites.
- Fresh fruits or fresh vegetables packaged in a wrapper, or confining band, of less than 13 mm (1/2 inch) in width [B.01.003(1)(a)(ii), FDR; 213(b), SFCR];
- Examples of fresh fruits or vegetables that are packaged in a wrapper or confining band of less than 13 mm (1/2 inch) in width are fresh broccoli, asparagus or rhubarb, held together by twist ties or rubber bands.
- Fresh fruits or vegetables that are packaged in a protective wrapper, or a protective bag, that is transparent and on which no information is shown other than a price, bar code, number code, environmental statement or product treatment symbol [213(c), SFCR].
- Examples of fresh fruits or vegetables that are typically found in such protective wrappers or bags include an English cucumber, a head of lettuce or cauliflower, a bunch of grapes, etc.
Exemptions from the Safe Food for Canadians Act and Regulations
A food that is not compliant with the Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA) and Regulations (SFCR) may be imported or interprovincially traded under certain conditions, and with some exceptions. For information, refer to the Exceptions and non-applications section of the guidance on Regulatory requirement: Trade [18, SFCR].
In addition, the SFCR provides for general exemptions from all requirements of the SFCA and SFCR for certain foods under specific circumstances and conditions, such as foods for personal use or foods carried on a ship, aircraft or train for the crew or passengers. These general exemptions also apply to labelling requirements. Further details are also available in the Exceptions and non-applications section of the guidance on Regulatory requirement: Trade [19, 20(1), 21-23, SFCR].
Foods manufactured for export are not subject to the requirements of the Food and Drugs Act (FDA).
In general, foods that are exported must meet the SFCR requirements as well as foreign country requirements, subject to certain exemptions. For information on these exemptions, refer to the General requirements – Export section of the guidance on Regulatory requirement: Trade.
Exemptions from specific labelling requirements under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations for certain consumer prepackaged foods
Certain consumer prepackaged (definition) foods are exempt from specific labelling provisions under the SFCR. These consumer prepackaged foods are those that are [299, SFCR]:
- manufactured, prepared, produced, packaged or labelled for use by commercial or industrial enterprises or institutions without being sold by them;
- manufactured, prepared, produced, packaged or labelled only for sale to or by a duty free shop; or
- distributed to one or more persons for no consideration (such as free samples distributed without exchange of money or other compensation).
Please note the above foods are however subject to labelling requirements under the Food and Drug Act (FDA) and Regulations (FDR).
The SFCR labelling requirements that do not apply to the above consumer prepackaged foods are:
|200, 216, 221, 229(1)(a), 230-241||Various provisions dealing with net quantity|
|222||Place of manufacture of label or container|
|223||Food wholly manufactured, processed or produced in a foreign state|
|224, 229(1)(b)||Statement that a flavouring ingredient is imitation, artificial or simulated, and its type size requirement|
As well, for the specific uses and circumstances listed above, consumer prepackaged peanut butter, wine, glucose syrup and refined sugar syrup are exempt from standard container size requirements [188(1), SFCR].
If a food is exempt from a labelling requirement of SFCR but is nonetheless labelled with that information, it must be labelled in the same manner as though it was required [203, SFCR].
More information on exemptions from specific labelling requirements is available on the Industry Labelling Tool.
Information on prepackaged foods
Under the SFCR and FDR, prepackaged foods and prepackaged products both refer to those that are packaged before being offered for sale. This includes products packaged for sale to consumers (referred to as consumer prepackaged) and those packaged for sale to other companies or institutions, such as a box of flour that is sold by a mill to a bakery, or an industry-sized pail of syrup that is sold by a manufacturer to a restaurant. Foods that are packaged at retail before being offered for sale, such as candies packaged into containers from bulk or buns placed in a bag by the retailer are also considered to be prepackaged.
Note that the SFCR definition of prepackaged food is closely aligned with the FDR definition of prepackaged product. For additional information, refer to Definition of “prepackaged” and “consumer prepackaged”.
Food products that are offered for sale unpackaged and then packaged by a clerk upon request by the consumer are not considered to be prepackaged products. These are often referred to as clerk-served foods. Examples include:
- deli meat on display at the deli counter that is sliced and packaged at the request of a consumer does not require labelling as it is a clerk-served item
- gift baskets that are not packaged prior to a customer's order do not require labelling information. This allowance does not apply to gift baskets that are packaged prior to a customer’s order
Food products that are offered for sale unpackaged and then packaged by the consumer (e.g., food sold in bulk bins) are also not considered to be consumer prepackaged products.
Based on the definitions in the FDA and SFCR, a package (definition) or container (definition) is interpreted to include:
- inedible casings
- wax, cheesecloth, muslin, or similar items, on cheese
- confining bands on fresh fruits or vegetables (e.g., bands made of twine, elastic bands or twist ties)
- clear, colourless, transparent protective wrapper, including the shrink wrap on individual units of fresh fruits or vegetables, such as the ones used on English cucumbers, a lettuce head, a bunch of grapes, etc.
- any outer package that is customarily displayed to the consumer (such as outer packaging for most foods such as cartons, bags and nets)
A package or containers is interpreted to exclude:
- inner pouches, envelopes, boxes, bags, sleeves, etc. when sold inside an outer box or bag that is normally displayed to the consumer, regardless of whether the inside wrap is unlabelled, partly labelled, or fully labelled. This may include protective wrappings inside properly labelled shipping containers, such as fish blocks held within a protective wrapping [Note: If a food item from inside a box is sold individually, however, the inside wrap or liner is then considered to be a container and must be fully labelled when sold.]
- edible casings that enclose foods, because these are considered to be ingredients of a food, e.g. casings on sausages
- wax coatings on fresh fruits and vegetables, because these are also part of the food, e.g. wax coating on apples, turnips
- a conveyance (definition) or any container that is an integral part of a conveyance
Information on the definitions of "Sell"
Both the FDA and SFCA define "sell (definition)". Both specify that to sell includes "distribute, whether or not the distribution is made for consideration". This means that a sale is considered to have taken place whether or not money (or other compensation) is exchanged.
Therefore, free samples of food distributed door-to-door through the mail or by other means are subject to the labelling requirements of the FDA for foods sold in Canada, such as for common name, a Nutrition Facts table, and a list of ingredients. "Distribute" also includes the distribution of prepackaged products in a hospital to patients or on an airline to passengers.
With respect to labelling requirements of the SFCA, the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations provide exemptions from specific labelling requirements for consumer prepackaged foods that are distributed for no consideration [299, SFCR]. For additional information, refer to Exemptions from specific labelling requirements under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations for certain consumer prepackaged foods.
Most labelling requirements apply to products when "sold" by a regulated party. This may include when a manufacturer or importer distributes a shipment of product to a store, when a retailer packages a food from bulk and offers it for sale to consumers, when a product is re-sold, or various other situations. All sellers have a responsibility for compliance with requirements, at the various levels of trade.
Non-prepackaged foods that require a label
In addition to prepackaged foods, some non-prepackaged foods are required to carry a label [B.01.003(1)(b) to (f), FDR]. As the definition of label includes words belonging to or accompanying a food, the labels of non-prepackaged foods may be on a tag or sign accompanying the food, and not necessarily placed on the product itself. Since the majority of mandatory labelling requirements only apply to prepackaged foods, the labelling requirements for these foods are limited.
The list below identifies the non-prepackaged foods that require a label and associated labelling requirements:
- Meat and meat by-products that are barbequed, roasted or broiled on the retail premises
- Require a label that carries on the principal display panel a statement to the effect that the food must be stored at a temperature of 40°F (4.4°C) or lower, or 140°F (60°C) or higher [B.14.072, FDR]
- Poultry, poultry meat or poultry meat by-products that are barbequed, roasted or broiled on the retail premises
- Require a label that carries on the principal display panel a statement to the effect that the food must be stored at a temperature of 40°F (4.4°C) or lower, or 140°F (60°C) or higher [B.22.026, FDR]
- Horse-meat or horse-meat by-product
- Require a label identifying the product as horse-meat or horse-meat by-product [B.14.016, FDR]
- Any substance or mixture of substances for use as a food additive or food additive preparation, e.g. meat tenderizer
- Require a quantitative statement of the amount of each additive present or directions for use that, if followed, will produce a food that will not contain such additives in excess of the maximum levels of use prescribed by the Food and Drug Regulations [B.16.001, FDR]
- Irradiated foods, that are permitted to be irradiated but are not pre-packaged
- Require the irradiated symbol on a sign immediately next to the food [B.01.035(2), FDR]
Meat products that are non-prepackaged when traded interprovincially or internationally must also be labelled with the following [282, 283, 297, SFCR]:
- inspection legend or official inspection mark of foreign state
- common name
- name and principal place of business
- net quantity
- storage instructions, when applicable
- list of ingredients
- country of origin
For more information on meat products labelling, including poultry-specific requirements, refer to Meat and poultry products.
Consumer prepackaged, in respect of a food, means packaged in a container (definition) in the manner in which the food is ordinarily sold to or used or purchased by an individual — or in which the food may reasonably be expected to be obtained by an individual — without being repackaged, to be used for non-commercial purposes [1, SFCR].
Container means an outer receptacle or covering that is used or to be used in connection with a food. It includes a wrapper and a confining band but does not include a conveyance (definition) or any container that is an integral part of a conveyance [1, SFCR].
Conveyance means a vessel, aircraft, train, motor vehicle, trailer or other means of transportation, including a cargo container [2, SFCA].
Food includes any article manufactured, sold or represented for use as food or drink for human beings, chewing gum, and any ingredient that may be mixed with food for any purpose whatever [2, FDA; 1, SFCR].
- includes anything in which any food, drug, cosmetic or device is wholly or partly contained, placed or packed [2, FDA];
- means an inner or outer receptacle or covering used or to be used in connection with a food commodity and includes a wrapper or confining band [2, SFCA].
Person means an individual or an organization as defined in section 2 of the Criminal Code [2, FDA; 2, SFCA].
A person may therefore be an individual or an organization, and may include a consumer, a manufacturer, a retailer, an importer, a restaurant, any other commercial or industrial enterprise, an institution such as a school or hospital, and anyone else who sells, uses, or buys a food.
Prepackaged, in respect of a food, means packaged in a container (definition) in the manner in which the food is ordinarily sold to or used or purchased by a person (definition), and includes consumer prepackaged (definition) [1, SFCR].
This definition is closely aligned with the FDR definition of prepackaged product (definition).
Prepackaged product means any food that is contained in a package in the manner in which it is ordinarily sold to or used or purchased by a person [B.01.001(1), FDR].
This definition is closely aligned with the SFCR definition of prepackaged (definition).
- includes offer for sale, expose for sale, have in possession for sale and distribute, whether or not the distribution is made for consideration [2, FDA];
- includes agree to sell, offer for sale, expose for sale or have in possession for sale — or distribute to one or more persons whether or not the distribution is made for consideration [2, SFCA]
For additional details, refer to Information on the definitions of "sell".
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