Naming Foods: FDA’s Statement of Identity Guidelines

Whether you’re a bakery, a meal kit service, or a restaurant, crafting the perfect product isn’t just about branding – it’s about compliance. Correctly naming and labeling your product is not just a marketing strategy, but a regulatory necessity. In the vast world of food labeling, misunderstandings or misrepresentations of FDA standards can negatively affect your business in the long run.

As an establishment in the food industry, familiarizing oneself with the FDA’s “Statement of Identity” and “Standard of Identity” can save you from potential pitfalls. This article will delve into these terms, ensuring that your product not only resonates with consumers but also adheres to regulatory standards. 

Defining the Basics: What is the FDA’s Statement and Standard of Identity?

When diving deep into the labeling world, two terms surface prominently: the FDA’s Statement of Identity and the Standard of Identity. Although they might seem interchangeable to the layman, they possess specific roles in the context of food labeling.

Remember, a mislabeled product can mislead consumers and erode trust, so it’s paramount to get it right. Aligning your product’s name with FDA guidelines is both a protective measure for your business and a demonstration of commitment to your customers.

Statement of Identity vs. Standards of Identity

While both terms are integral to the FDA’s food labeling guidelines, they serve distinct purposes:

Statement of Identity: 

Introduced by the FDA to maintain clarity and transparency in food labeling, the Statement of Identity refers to the official name of a food product, ensuring consumers are not misled by unfamiliar or innovative product names. If there isn’t a standard name, a precise descriptive term that reflects the food’s essence or the common or usual name of the food should be used. Yet if the food adheres to an identity standard, its label must match that standard. 

For example, a carton containing the liquid extracted from pressed almonds should be labeled with the Statement of Identity “Almond Milk.” This descriptor not only helps consumers understand the product’s nature but also upholds industry standards.

The Statement of Identity should be prominently displayed on the Principal Display Panel, aligned roughly with the package’s base. For further guidance on the position of the FDA Statement of Identity on a food product, you can refer to our piece on Understanding Principal Display Panels on Food Products. 

Standards of Identity: 

Standards of Identity (SOI) were established in 1939 by the FDA and over the years, they’ve developed over 250 SOIs. Going beyond just a name, the SOIs delve into the specifics. They define the necessary ingredients, proportions, and sometimes even the quantity/ratio or production process of a food item. 

These standards are set for items such as milk, milk chocolate, various types of bread, peanut butter, and ketchup. So for a product to be labeled as “mayonnaise,” for instance, it must adhere to specific ingredient and production standards set by the FDA. It’s not just about what the product is called, but what it is made of and how.

SOIs were introduced to safeguard consumers and ensure transparency in food dealings. They make certain that the features, ingredients, and methods used in food production align with consumer expectations. Although modern labeling provides consumers with more details like nutrition, ingredients, and allergens, and economic adulteration isn’t as widespread, food standards remain essential for maintaining honesty in the industry.

Currently, the FDA is revising its SOI program. The objective is to preserve the core nature and crucial attributes of standardized foods, while also introducing some flexibility regarding their composition. In revising SOIs, the FDA focuses on:

  • Setting clear guidelines for reviewing, modifying, or introducing food standards;
  • Adapting existing SOIs to accommodate market innovations, including embracing current technologies and processes; and
  • Refining SOIs to promote the creation and evolution of healthier food options.

FDA standards of identity are can be found in 21 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) Chapter 1, Subchapter B.

In essence, while the Statement of Identity tells you what the product is, the Standards of Identity tell you how it’s made and what’s in it.

The Practical Side: How To Apply These Standards To Your Business

Understanding the FDA’s guidelines is one thing; applying them to your business is another. Here’s how to ensure your products are compliant:

  1. Research and Review: Before labeling a product, review the FDA’s list of established Standards of Identity. Ensure your product aligns with any existing standards.
  1. Clarity in Naming: If your product doesn’t fit an existing standard, use its common or usual name. If it’s an innovative product without a common name, opt for a descriptive term that accurately represents the product.
  1. Ingredient Transparency: Ensure that the ingredients listed on your product align with its Statement of Identity. If you’re selling “peanut butter,” the primary ingredient should be peanuts.
  1. Seek Expertise: Consider consulting with a regulatory expert or using software tools designed by companies such as to ensure your labels are compliant.
  1. Stay Updated: The world of food and regulations are ever-evolving. Regularly review FDA updates to ensure ongoing compliance.

Navigating the Regulations: Key Requirements for Compliant Labeling

Labeling isn’t just about marketing; it’s about trust and compliance. Here are key requirements to ensure your product labels meet FDA standards:

  • Prominent Display: The Statement of Identity should be one of the primary features on the main display panel of your product.
  • Formatting: The text for the Statement of Identity should be bolded and in a size “reasonably related to the most prominent printed matter on the panel.” It should also be parallel to the base of the packaging for easy reading.
  • Ingredient List: All ingredients should be listed in descending order of predominance by weight. This provides transparency to consumers about what they’re consuming.
  • Allergen Information: Clearly mention any allergens present, such as nuts, dairy, or gluten. This is crucial for consumer safety.
  • Nutritional Information: Provide a clear nutritional breakdown, including calories, fats, sugars, and more. This helps consumers make informed dietary choices.
  • Avoid Misleading Terms: Ensure that terms like “natural” or “organic” are used correctly and in line with FDA guidelines.
  • Address Special Cases: If your product is a dietary supplement or an imitation of another product, ensure it’s labeled as such.

Remember, compliant labeling isn’t just about avoiding regulatory issues – it’s about building trust with your consumers. Transparent, clear, and compliant labels ensure that trust is maintained.

Special Cases: Addressing Imitation Products and Dietary Supplements in the Food Industry

The FDA’s regulations don’t just cover traditional foods; they extend to imitation products and dietary supplements as well.

Imitation Products:

At times, the food industry introduces products designed to mimic the characteristics of well-established items. For instance, a dairy-free cheese might aim to replicate the taste and texture of real cheese but doesn’t adhere to the cheese’s standard of identity. Such products are termed as an “imitation” by the FDA. They are required to be labeled as such unless they meet or surpass the nutritional value of the product they’re mimicking. This ensures that consumers are not misled about the product’s nature or its nutritional profile.

Dietary Supplements:

Unlike traditional foods, dietary supplements often claim to offer health benefits beyond basic nutrition. Their labeling requirements differ from regular foods. The FDA mandates that supplements clearly identify themselves as a “dietary supplement” on their labels, distinct from the traditional “statement of identity.” Supplements also have specific requirements for health claims, nutrient content, and structure/function claims.

Beyond the Norm: Understanding Non-Standardized Foods and Their Labeling Needs

Not every food product neatly fits within the FDA’s established standards of identity. These non-standardized foods, from innovative dishes to unique blends, have their own labeling considerations.

  • Innovative Foods:

The emergence of innovative foods, which might involve unique ingredients or novel production methods, poses a challenge. How should a plant-based burger that bleeds, or a loaf of gluten-free bread that tastes and feels like its gluten-rich counterpart, be named? Such products must strike a balance between accurately conveying their nature and avoiding misleading consumers. They might not have a set “standard of identity,” but their labels should reflect the product’s true essence.

  • Unique Blends and Mixes:

When foods are mixed or blended, their identity can become complex. For instance, a drink made primarily of apple juice but containing traces of other fruit juices can’t simply be labeled “apple juice.” The label must clarify the nature of the blend to ensure transparency for the consumer.

  • Specific Guidelines for Non-standardized Foods:

The FDA provides guidelines for labeling non-standardized foods. For instance, the Asian-style noodle’s label can’t just state “noodles” as they don’t conform to that specific identity. They need qualifying terms like “Japanese” or “Ramen.” Similarly, items flavored with cocoa but not containing actual chocolate can still use “chocolate” in their label but with clarifications, such as in “chocolate-flavored pudding.”

In conclusion, while the FDA’s regulations ensure consistency and transparency in food labeling, the evolving nature of the food industry requires continuous adaptation. Producers must remain vigilant and informed to ensure their labels are both compliant and transparent. For businesses seeking assistance, platforms like Food Label Maker offer valuable guidance on these intricate matters, or refer to our specialized checklist to ensure that you have followed all necessary guidelines. 


Should I make the statement of identity stand out?

Yes, the statement of identity should be one of the principal features on the principal display panel of a product. It must be in bold type and prominently placed, with the type size being reasonably related to the most important printed matter on the front panel.

How should I place the statement of identity on the principal display panel?

The statement of identity must appear in lines parallel to the base of the package. Its prominence and type size should be reasonably related to the most dominant printed content on the front panel, typically at least one-half the size of the largest print on the label.

Are there specific labeling requirements for meal kits that combine multiple ingredients?

Yes, meal kits with multiple ingredients should list each ingredient separately. The kit itself should have a statement of identity for the overall product, and each individual ingredient or component should comply with its respective identity standard or have an appropriate common name if a standard doesn’t exist.

If I introduce a new dish in my restaurant that doesn’t fit traditional categories, how do I determine its Statement of Identity?

For innovative or non-traditional dishes, if no standard of identity exists, the statement of identity should be the common or usual name of the food. If a common name isn’t available, it should be a descriptive name that accurately conveys the basic nature or characterizing ingredients of the dish.

Are there exceptions to the Standard of Identity for certain types of foods or cuisines?

Yes, some foods or cuisines don’t conform to the traditional standards of identity. In such cases, Compliance Policy Guides (CPGs) or other regulations might apply, offering alternate naming requirements or exceptions, like with Asian-style noodles or certain uses of the term “chocolate”.

Per the FD&C act, there aren’t set identity standards or definitions for:

  • Fresh and dried fruits
  • Fresh and dried vegetables
  • Avocados
  • Cantaloupes
  • Citrus fruits
  • Melons

What this means is that there’s no specific definition for, as an example, what is an apple which further means there’s no regulation that the word “apple” must appear on an apple that is being sold. If you produce a product that falls into this category, then you don’t need to be particularly concerned about misbranding your product due to  standards of identity/definitions.

What penalties might I face if my product doesn’t comply with the FDA’s identity standards?

Non-compliance can result in a product being deemed misbranded, leading to potential FDA actions like product seizures, injunctions, or warning letters. This could also result in negative publicity and financial consequences.

Where can I find official FDA resources or guides on Statement and Standard of Identity for further clarity?

The official FDA website provides detailed guidelines and resources. Specifically, you can refer to the FDA’s Food Labeling Guide and resources like Registrar Corp, FDA Reader or the FDA Food Labeling Guide for in-depth information on Statement and Standard of Identity.