Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Myth: There's no reason for a lot of the food packages I buy at grocery stores to be half empty.

Answer: BUSTED!

bag of potato chips
There may be good reasons for that half empty package. Actually, the empty space in a package is called “slack fill.” That space may be there to keep the product from breaking. In the case of potato chips, which break easily, the empty space can provide cushioning when bags are stacked. However, sometimes companies keep packages the same size (with the resulting empty space) because they don’t want to change their machinery to make a different size package. In the case of grocery stores, a standard package size is used to base the cost of shelf space that a company pays for.

In this environmentally conscious world, many consumers value a company that reduces packaging thus reducing the carbon footprint of their products. So, many companies are now aiming for less packaging and trying to avoid packages with a lot of empty space.

The federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act protects consumers from the abuse of “slack fill” by companies, to some extent.

If you have a complaint about a food package with empty space, contact your state’s FDA complaint coordinator at http://www.fda.gov/Safety/ReportaProblem/ConsumerComplaintCoordinators/default.htm.

Visit the MissouriFamilies website for more information about nutrition and health.

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension, schusterer@missouri.edu, 573-882-1933

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