In today’s hazardous world, almost every household item is labeled to the nth degree with warnings about what you can eat, when you can and can’t eat it, and what to do if—by some stroke of luck—you ingest something you shouldn’t. It’s enough to make your head spin, even without ingesting dangerous chemicals or non-food items.
This wasn’t always the case. The FDA has a handy chronology on their website that tells the history of food labeling in this country—but if that’s not your idea of fascinating non-work reading material for your Tuesday after Labor Day hangover, we’ve summarized the history for you below.
Click through the gallery to see non-food items labeled “do not eat,” and what would happen if you eat them.
HISTORY OF FOOD LABELING IN THE US
1906: Teddy Roosevelt’s congress passes the Food and Drugs Act prohibiting “misbranded and adulterated foods, drinks and drugs” to be sold across state lines, to protect consumers from being duped by “miracle cures” and the like. Baby steps, but it’s a start.
1913: Packaged foods must be labeled in a way that a package’s contents are “plainly and conspicuously marked on the outside of the package in terms of weight, measure, or numerical count,” as part of the Gould Amendment.
1924: With U.S. v. 95 Barrels Alleged Apple Cider Vinegar, the Supreme Court effectively outlaws deceptive and/or misleading labeling.
1962: President John F. Kennedy proclaims the Consumer Bill of Rights, outlining the consumer’s right to safety, the right to be heard, and perhaps most integrally, the right to make informed choices about what s/he consumes.
1966: The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act requires that every consumer product, from foods to household cleaners to makeup, be “honestly and informatively labeled,” and calls for FDA enforcement to keep manufacturers honest.
1990: As a result of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, packaged foods must bear specific nutrition information (The ubiquitous “Nutrition Facts” on the back of everything you eat). Serving sizes, fat contents and other food facts are standardized. This law is further clarified and refined in 1992, and a similar bill, called the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, passes in 1994, requiring like labeling for nutritional and performance-enhancing supplements.
2004: The Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires foods containing peanuts, soybeans, cow’s milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, and wheat to be labeled as such, in an effort to protect people with common food allergies.