Food Science: What’s In That Food Product?

Food Science: What’s In That Food Product?

I attended Hempcon a few weeks ago (Cow Palace, San Francisco) and was not impressed with the array of packaged cannabis food products on display by the many food vendors. Over the past few months I had been applauding medible food companies making the effort to be transparent with ingredient statements, allergen listings and nutritional information. However those companies are far and few between and I am seeing way too many products lacking important need to know information that should be on the product package.

Imagine a world where you go to a supermarket and none of the foods list what they are, or what is in it. What if you have allergies or are trying to watch your calorie intake? What if you want to eat more protein, less carbs or more fat? Buying food products would be a mystery without ingredient statements. That’s the way it is right now in the world of Cannabis infused food products. A mystery. If entrepreneurs want to be ready expand and grow they should try to follow and comply with food labeling regulations, even if the FDA is not watching you, you should still make your product as if they were! The FDA has a very detailed guide that is available for anyone in the food industry, and it’s all available online. This website refers to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR’s) by chapters and sections with links directly to the details on that section.

Become familiar with these regulations and try to adapt them to your own product. Diligent food labeling is crucial for the reputation of the cannabis food industry and will earn your company and product the respect it deserves. Show your consumers that you care about food safety and food laws.

Here are a few mandatory labeling rules that apply to all retail packaged foods made and sold in the U.S. You should try to follow these rules and apply them to your own products.

Common and Usual Food Names: (21 CFR 101.3(b)(2) The common or usual name must be used for a food if it has one. It would be considered misleading to label a food that has an established name with a new name. If the food is subject to a standard of identity (like salad dressing or cheddar cheese) it should bear the name specified in the standard. In other words, if you only use fanciful names like “Elixir” or “Health Syrup” no one will know what you are selling. Make sure you clearly state “carbonated sugar sweetened beverage” or “Rice Crisp and Marshmallow Bar” underneath your marketed name.

Warning Labels: While you want the consumer to be aware of what is inside the product, you should always make sure your product is clearly labeled as a medicine and not a food to avoid any confusion.

Ingredient Listing (21 CFR 101.4 (a) Ingredients should be listed out in descending order of predominance. This means that the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first, and the ingredient that weighs the least is listed last. This is done to prevent any misconceptions and make sure the consumer is clear on the ratio of each ingredient in the package. You do not have to list your formula, just the order by weight. The ingredient statement should include water and any ingredients within your ingredients. If you add a spice blend to your product, list all the ingredients in that spice blend, don’t just call it “spice blend”. You also need to list any incidental ingredients that have a functional role in your finished product.

Under the Food Allergen Labeling and consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA), a major food allergen is an ingredient that is one of the following eight foods or food groups or an ingredient that contains protein derived from one of them: milk, egg, fish, Crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, soybeans. The FALCPA requires food manufacturers to label food products that contain an ingredient that is or contains protein from a major food allergen in one of two ways.
The first option for food manufacturers is to include the name of the food source in parenthesis following the common or usual name of the major food allergen in the list of ingredients in instances when the name of the food source of the major allergen does not appear elsewhere in the ingredient statement. For example:
Ingredients: Enriched flour (wheat flour, malted barley, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), sugar, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and/or cottonseed oil, high fructose corn syrup, whey (milk), eggs, vanilla, natural and artificial flavoring) salt, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, monocalcium phosphate), lecithin (soy), mono-and diglycerides (emulsifier).

The second option is to place the word “Contains” followed by the name of the food source from which the major food allergen is derived, immediately after or adjacent to the list of ingredients, in type size that is no smaller than the type size used for the list of ingredients. For example:

Contains Wheat, Milk, Egg, and Soy

The Food Labeling Guidance page lists a multitude of other regulations like listing the weight of food in the package, serving size weight and portions per package. Cannabis food may have smaller portions than non-medicated food and the mg of THC should be included per gram weight of food product.

Labeling compliance will help your consumers navigate the confusing world of cannabis infused food products and ensure they know what ingredients, allergens and medicinal content they are consuming in every bite. Rules and regulations on how to label cannabis foods will vary between different counties and some counties may imply that following regulations too closely will imply that the edible is a food and not a drug. Always double check your local regulations with the goal of helping your consumer make the most informed choice possible.

Rachel Zemser is a certified food scientist. To learn more about her visit:


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