Food Products that Require a Label

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Table of Contents

Labelling Requirements

General

Most prepackaged foods sold in Canada require a label (definition) [B.01.003, FDR; 10, CPLA]. 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.

Foods manufactured for export are not subject to the requirements of the Food and Drugs Act (FDA) or Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act (CPLA), including labelling requirements [CPLR 3(1), FDA 37 (1)].

Exemptions

Exemption from the requirement to carry a label

The Food and Drug Regulations (FDR) and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Regulations (CPLR) exempt the following prepackaged foods are exempt from the requirement to carry a label:

  • One bite confections that are sold individually;
    • 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 [B.01.003(1)(a)(i), FDR; 4(3), CPLR].
  • Fresh fruits or fresh vegetables packaged in a wrapper or confining band of less than ½ inch in width;
    • Fresh fruits or vegetables that are packaged in a clear, colourless transparent wrapper (e.g. shrink wrap) on individual units of fresh produce when absolutely no printed, written or graphic information appears on the wrapper, other than a price sticker, bar codes, number codes, environmental statements and product treatment symbols qualify for this exemption. Examples of these products typically found in such wrappers include an English cucumber, a head of lettuce, a bunch of grapes, etc. Examples of fresh fruits or vegetables that are packaged in a confining band of less than ½ inch (13 mm) in width are fresh broccoli, asparagus or rhubarb, held together by twist ties, elastics or rubber bands [B.01.003(1)(a)(ii), FDR; 4(4), CPLR].

Note: the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Regulations also exempt the following foods from bearing a label:

  1. Raspberries or strawberries packaged in the field in containers with a capacity of 1.14 litres or less [4(5), CPLR];
  2. Soft drink containers that are i) re-used by a dealer as soft drink containers, ii) permanently labelled with any information required to be shown by the FDA, and iii) manufactured prior to March 1, 1975 [4(2), CPLR].

The foods listed in (a) and (b) however; do not have an exemption from labelling requirements under the FDR.

Exemption from all provisions of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act

The following products are exempt from all requirements of the CPLA:

  • Prepackaged products that are produced or manufactured for commercial or industrial enterprises or institutions for use by such enterprises or institutions without being sold by them as prepackaged products to other consumers.
  • Prepackaged products that are produced or manufactured only for export or for sale to a duty-free store.

This means that these foods are exempt from all requirements in the CPLA, such as container sizes and claims, as well as the labelling requirements.

Only foods that are manufactured for export are also exempt from the labelling requirements of the FDA. Foods for commercial or industrial enterprises and foods for sale to a duty-free store are subject to the labelling requirements of the FDR.

Exemption for Prepackaged Products Consisting of Less than Seven Identical Products

When a prepackaged product consists of less than seven identical products that are packaged separately, none of the information required by the CPLA and CPLR has to be shown on the outside of the prepackaged product being sold as one unit provided the products inside are labelled to show all the required information in a manner which is clearly visible at the time of sale [28(2), CPLR]. 

Although no similar regulation exists in the FDR, information required by the FDR that is clearly visible through the outer package without undue manipulation is considered to meet the FDR requirement for labelling information to be readily discernible [A.01.016, FDR].  For example, no objection is taken to the sale of six identical completely labelled candy bars in a clear unlabelled plastic bag, providing all mandatory information such as the list of ingredients, Nutrition Facts table, etc. is readily available and legible.

Information on Prepackaged Foods

When referring to food labelling requirements for prepackaged foods, prepackaged products (definition) are those that are packaged before being offered for sale. This includes 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.

Note that the FDR definition of "prepackaged product" includes products packaged for sale to consumers and those packaged for sale to the 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. Conversely, the CPLA definition of "prepackaged product" includes only those products that are packaged for sale to consumers.

Food products that are offered for sale unpackaged and then packaged by a clerk upon request by the consumer (definition) 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 prepackaged products.

Package/Container

Based on the definitions in the FDA and CPLA, a package (definition) or container (definition) is interpreted to include:

  • Inedible casings
  • Wax, cheesecloth, muslin, or similar items, on cheese
  • Confining bands on fresh produce (may be made of twine, elastic bands or twist ties)
  • Clear, colourless, transparent protective wrappings, including the shrink wrap on individual units of fresh fruits and 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. [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

Information on the Definitions of "Sell"

Both the FDA and CPLA define "sell (definition)". The FDA specifies that to sell includes "distribute, whether or not the distribution is made for consideration". This means that under the FDA 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 foods in a hospital to patients or on an airline to passengers.

The CPLA definition of "sell" does not include "distribute". This means that information required under the CPLA (e.g. a net quantity declaration) is not required on foods that are distributed but not sold, such as free samples.

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(b)-(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:

1. 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].

2. 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].

3. 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].

4. 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].

5. 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].

Related Links

Definitions

Apply

Apply means, in respect of a label, to attach to, imprint on, include in or cause to accompany in any other way a product [2(1), CPLA].

Consumer

Consumer is a person who will be the user of the prepackaged product which is intended to be offered for sale at the retail level.

Container

A container means a receptacle, package, wrapper or confining band in which a product is offered for sale but does not include package liners or shipping containers or any outer wrapping or box that is not customarily displayed to the consumer [2(2), CPLA].

Food

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]. Food items that meet the FDA definition of food are considered products in the CPLA;

Package

  • includes anything in which any food, drug, cosmetic or device is wholly or partly contained, placed or packed [section 2, FDA];
    or
  • 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].

Product

A product means any article that is or may be the subject of trade or commerce but does not include or any interest therein [2, CPLA].

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, FDR];
    or
  • means any product that is packaged in a container in such a manner that is ordinarily sold to or used or purchased by a consumer without being re-packaged [Section 2(1), CPLA].

Sell/Sale

  • 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];
    or
  • includes offer for sale, expose for sale and have in possession for sale, and display in a manner as to lead to a reasonable belief that the substance or product so displayed is intended for sale [2(1), CPLA].
    or
  • 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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