Random Thoughts

I wuz thinkin'

... all the information is available

by Russ Priestley

The U.S. government's rules and regulations concerning cautionary and nutritional information, which are mandatory, have made a definite difference in our lives. However, I doubt that there are many who realize how they can take advantage of these regulations.

A simple example is the required tag on any clothing you buy. It must reveal the country of origin, if outside the U.S., and it must give facts on the fabric. If not 100% wool or cotton, then the full facts in percentage must be revealed. Your government wants you to be fully informed.

The origin of this practice may have been with mattresses. For many years they have sewn a large tag on them. All of you must have seen them, "Under Penalty of Law, DO NOT REMOVE This Tag." The extent of the fine or imprisonment was never delineated. Some people may have never had a good night's sleep when wondering if  that night would be the one when the Mattress Police would make a surprise invasion to check their compliance.

As an artist who was doing package design when the FPLA (Fair Packaging and Labeling Act) was introduced, I was deeply into making sure my artwork was in compliance. That involved the size and position of the type describing the product and net contents and where it should be placed on the package. That was made clear in the FPLA manuals.

I wuz thinkin' of this when I bought a bakery product at a local supermarket. I wondered who got the job of printing the label. The largest type was the PRICE in 12 point type, followed in size by the UNIT PRICE/LB, SELL BY and description of the product in 10 point type. (For the unwashed, the point is used to measure type height and there are 72 points to an inch).

Now we get down to the real nitty gritty. To describe all of the contents, it is necessary to drop the size of the type to what appears to be 4 point size. It is also necessary to use all capital letters because that eliminates the letters (characters) which have descenders (g, j, p, q, y) and take more space vertically. This must be a list of all ingredients in order of prevalence. Anyone with an allergy must read this to decide if the food is safe. Beyond this, one might find a sentence: "Products from our bakery may have been exposed to or contain allergens such as milk, wheat, soy, tree nuts or peanuts."

I found it interesting that someone misspelled "SELECT" in 10 point type, whereas they went right through the 4 point words: "Diglycerides, Monostearates and Riboflavin" without a hitch. There was a total of 32 ingredients listed and this was for just four muffins. Any consumer having allergies would read this listing and that is why it is done, but consider the extent of work involving a printer which can print such small type.

I'm still curious about the "Nutrition Facts" which are also required. Is there a chemist standing beside the baker making tests on the amount of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, fiber, sugar and protein? Who decides the vitamin content (A and C) and the amount of calcium, iron and calories, calories from fat and calories from saturated fat, but who can dispute the information?

February 5, 2010

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