Update on Health Canada's modernization makeover: changes to food labelling requirements

Image of a food label

Food and Beverage News and Trends

Health Canada’s “modernization makeover” continues. The Agency’s comprehensive review of regulations surrounding food and health products has already brought about considerable changes to several labelling requirements in the past years, but the modernization process is far from over.

On December 14, 2016 Health Canada announced changes to the Food and Drug Regulations (the “FD Regulations”). These changes reflect the latest science and incorporate industry feedback solicited by Health Canada over the last two years. They are intended to assist customers in making more informed decisions about the foods they consume. Changes include amendments to requirements for the Nutrition Facts table and list of ingredients on packaged foods. Industry has a transition period of five years in which to meet these requirements.

Updated labelling system will deliver clearer nutrition information to consumers

Key changes to the FD Regulations affect the following areas:

Nutrition Facts table

  • Serving sizes will be made more consistent and realistic (i.e. showing the serving size in cups as well as millilitres, where applicable);
  • Information will be made easier to find and read, using increased font sizes and adding a bold line under the number of calories;
  • Sugar content will be underlined by adding the % daily value for total sugars; and
  • The list of nutrients will be updated to reflect current science and public health concerns.

List of ingredients

  • Sugar-based ingredients will be listed together, in brackets, after the name “sugars” to assist consumers in identifying all sources of sugar added to a food;
  • All food colours will be declared by their common name, rather than the word “colour”; and
  • Colour, size and font requirements will be amended in order to ensure clarity and legibility.

Serving sizes

For the first time, serving size descriptions will be regulated and based on referenced amounts. This will assist consumers in more easily comparing the nutrient content information of a given product. For example, sizes will reflect amounts of foods that are typically eaten (e.g. “per 2 slices” for sliced bread).

Daily values

Among other changes, a footnote must be added to the bottom of each Nutrition Facts table, which will read: “5% or less is a little, 15% or more is a lot.”

Implementation plan and timeline for industry compliance

Industry will have until 2021 to comply with the amended regulations. During this five-year transition period, food manufacturers will be allowed to use either the former or the new labelling requirements. The five-year transition period gives industry time to adopt the new requirements, in addition to further regulatory changes which may be brought about as part of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Food Labelling Modernization Initiative and Health Canada’s Healthy Eating Strategy.

The only exception to the five-year implementation period is for amendments dealing with food colour specifications and the removal of synthetic colour certification requirements, which come into effect immediately.

Health Canada has published an implementation plan for these amendments, which can be consulted on the Agency’s website