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In the US, food labels are required to provide an ingredients list. One common phrase on labels is "contains 2% or less of." For example: "Pork, water, contains 2% or less of: salt, spices, sodium phosphates, dextrose, autolyzed yeast extract, caramel color." (Bonus points for identifying what that ingredient list is for.) Does the 2% apply to each item in the list individually, or do all the items sum up to being less than 2%?

This is sort of academic, I suppose, but I like to know what goes into the ingredients I use.

(ǝƃɐsnɐs :ɹǝʍsuɐ)

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3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

The US Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR 101.4) states that ingredients must be listed in descending order of predominance based on weight. The following exception is made in 21 CFR 101.4(2):

The descending order of predominance requirements of paragraph (a)(1) of this section do not apply to ingredients present in amounts of 2 percent or less by weight when a listing of these ingredients is placed at the end of the ingredient statement following an appropriate quantifying statement, e.g., "Contains __ percent or less of _" or "Less than _ percent of __." The blank percentage within the quantifying statement shall be filled in with a threshold level of 2 percent, or, if desired, 1.5 percent, 1.0 percent, or 0.5 percent, as appropriate. No ingredient to which the quantifying phrase applies may be present in an amount greater than the stated threshold.

Thus, each ingredient is 2% or less of the total weight. They are also exempt from the order by weight requirement. The manufacturer is free to order the subset of < 2% ingredients however they please.

Source: 21 CFR 101.4

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+1, could not have asked for a better answer. Not sure why I didn't find this myself when I Googled. –  Pops Sep 5 '10 at 21:34
    
knowing all those food regulations must make you a hoot at parties ;) –  Sam Holder Sep 6 '10 at 9:30

It pretty much means what is says: the food may contain detectable amounts of the stuff lists, but that they are present in small quantities from a nutrition perspective.

Those labels exist in the form they do because of FDA regulations (in the US, other agencies elsewhere), and the regulators set the rules in a way that is meant to be responsive to the various "stakeholders" (I loath that word, BTW), which often means they are full of arbitrary limits and goofy conditions.

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It applies to each item individually. Here is the relevant FDA rule:

(2) The descending order of predominance requirements of paragraph (a)(1) of this section do not apply to ingredients present in amounts of 2 percent or less by weight when a listing of these ingredients is placed at the end of the ingredient statement following an appropriate quantifying statement, e.g., Contains -- percent or less of ------'' orLess than -- percent of ------.'' The blank percentage within the quantifying statement shall be filled in with a threshold level of 2 percent, or, if desired, 1.5 percent, 1.0 percent, or 0.5 percent, as appropriate. No ingredient to which the quantifying phrase applies may be present in an amount greater than the stated threshold.

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