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Nutrition Labels and Online Grocery Sites

Woman reading online nutrition labels

Shopping for groceries online is convenient for many people and has seen a huge uptick since the start of the pandemic. But an analysis published in Public Health Nutrition by researchers from the NYU School of Global Public Health and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Massachusetts reports that online grocers and other food retailers are not consistently displaying nutrition labels on their websites. That’s because U.S. laws are lagging in mandating that the same labeling required for items sold in brick-and-mortar stores be displayed for foods sold on online sites.

Proper nutrition labels and nutrition information were uniformly displayed for online food items only 36.5% of the time, according to the study of 10 major food products from nine large online grocery retailers. Overall, nutrition facts and ingredients were listed 54.4% of the time. The researchers also found a mere 11.4% of products disclosed potential allergens, a lack of transparency that is particularly troublesome for people with food allergies or medically necessary dietary limitations.

A separate study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that, in addition to limited access to proper nutrition information, there are other barriers that make it harder for people to shop online and make nutritious choices. These include added fees, minimum order value requirement and the collection of personal information to be shared with affiliated companies. These are all standard practices for many online food retailers. The rapid growth in online grocery shopping appears to be outpacing the enforcement of regulations in this sector of the industry by the Food and Drug Administration, leaving consumers vulnerable.

See also: A New Approach to Food Labeling

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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