What is Country of Origin Labeling?
Country of Origin Labeling (aka “COOL”) is a law requiring certain food retailers (supermarkets and grocery stores) to provide consumers with information about the country of origin on specific food items at the point of purchase.
What kinds of food stores are required to label for COOL?
Any retail firm subject to be licensed as a retailer under the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act of 1930 is required to comply with COOL requirements. Most full line grocery stores and supermarkets meet this requirement.
Are places like fish markets and butcher shops required to provide COOL information?
No. Retailers that do not sell fruits and vegetables (e.g., fish markets and butcher shops) are not required to provide COOL information. In general, only full line grocers are required to provide COOL information.
What items can I expect to see labeled with COOL information?
- Muscle cuts of lamb, chicken and goat
- Ground lamb, chicken, and goat
- Fish and shellfish (wild and farm-raised)
- Perishable agricultural commodities (fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables)
- Peanuts, pecans and macadamia nuts
What is “Method of Production?”
Method of production refers to the environment in which fish and shellfish commodities are raised and harvested. In addition to country of origin, fish and shellfish commodities must also be labeled at retail with the method of production which can either be farm-raised, farmed, wild caught or wild.
Is there a specific font-size or location that the country of origin statement should be located at the retail display?
There are no specific requirements for the placement, location, font-size or font color for COOL declarations. The COOL rule only requires that “the declaration must be legible and placed in a conspicuous location, so as to render it likely to be read and understood by a customer under normal conditions of purchase.” To the extent practicable, the Agricultural Marketing Service encourages retailers and suppliers to place COOL information on the front of packaging used for fresh meat, fish and shellfish, and cut fresh fruit and vegetable products, also known as the principal display panel, so it will be readily apparent to consumers. The information panel would also be an acceptable location for the origin declaration as this is a location that is currently utilized for providing other federally-mandated labeling information (i.e., safe handling instructions, nutrition facts, and ingredients statement).
Why are processed foods excluded from COOL requirements?
The Agency believes that the two-part definition of a processed food item defined in the final rule is an appropriate interpretation of the intent of Congress to exclude covered commodities that are an ingredient in a processed food item and provides a bright line differentiating the steps that do and do not result in a commodity being covered by mandatory COOL. A processed food item is defined in 7 CFR § 65.220 as a covered commodity that has undergone specific processing resulting in a change in the character of the covered commodity, or that has been combined with at least one other covered commodity or other substantive food component. Specific processing steps that result in a change in the character of the covered commodity include cooking, curing, smoking, and restructuring.
Are restaurants required to display COOL information?
No. Under the statute and the final rule, food service establishments are exempt from COOL labeling requirements. Food service establishments are restaurants, cafeterias, lunch rooms, food stands, saloons, taverns, bars, lounges, or other similar facilities operated as an enterprise engaged in the business of selling food to the public. Similar food service facilities include salad bars, delicatessens, meal preparation stations in which the retailer sets out ingredients for different meals and consumers assemble the ingredients into meals to take home, and other food enterprises located within retail establishments that provide ready-to-eat foods that are consumed either on or outside of the retailer’s premises.
Which seafood items are COOL covered commodities?
Fresh and frozen fish and shellfish are covered commodities subject to COOL and include at 7 CFR 60.105(a)(3) Farm-raised fish and shellfish, and at 7 CFR 60.105(a)(4) Wild fish and shellfish. Examples of fresh or frozen fish and shellfish covered commodities include fillets, steaks, nuggets, and any other flesh from wild or farm‐raised fish or shellfish.
To accurately identify all fish and shellfish that are COOL covered commodities, different taxonomic ranks need to be considered. The table below summarizes the COOL covered commodities, the taxonomic rank, and examples of animals found in each taxonomic rank.
COOL Covered Commodity
Taxonomic Rank needed for Determination
Eel, Shark, Ray
Crab, Lobster, Shrimp, Crawfish
Squid, Octopus, Clam, Oyster, Snail
AMS generally refers to the FDA Seafood List to identify species of fish and shellfish covered by the COOL regulation. Although displayed on the FDA Seafood List, reptiles (e.g., alligator, turtle species) and amphibians (e.g., frogs) are not included in the taxonomic ranks of fish or shellfish as s Superclass of COOL covered commodities. Therefore, reptiles and amphibians are excluded from the AMS COOL regulation.
Are raw fish eggs (roe), or caviar covered commodities under COOL?
The COOL final rule at 7 CFR 60.105 defines farm-raised and wild fish and shellfish to include, “fillets, steaks, nuggets, and any other flesh.” Flesh is comprised of muscle filaments or tissue. Roe is separated from the connective tissue of ovaries (skein) and are not constituted by “flesh”. Therefore, roe is not subject to COOL.
The membrane that binds the fish eggs (e.g., salmon and trout species) within the fish is known as skein. Some types of roe are consumed in the skein (e.g., mullet roe), not as loose eggs. Whether roe is in skein or consists of loose eggs, the food is still primarily eggs, and not muscle filaments or flesh tissue. Therefore, roe contained within the skein would also not be subject to COOL.
Caviar is a product derived from non-ovulated sturgeon roe, and then cured. The name ‘caviar,’ unqualified, applies only to eggs from sturgeon fish species. A processed food item is defined in the COOL regulation as a retail item derived from a covered commodity that has undergone specific processing resulting in a change in the character of the covered commodity, or that has been combined with at least one other covered commodity or other substantive food component. The salt curing process that converts sturgeon roe into caviar results in a processed food item that is excluded from COOL. The cured form of mullet roe is called Bottarga. Roe or skeins from other species of fish that are smoked, cooked, or cured also result in processed food items excluded from COOL.
If I have a complaint about how things are labeled in my grocery store where can I send my complaint?
Consumers may submit complaints via U.S. mail, or through the new online COOL Complaint Portal. The consumer submitting the complaint will be requested to provide their contact information (i.e., name, phone number, email address), and the contact information of retail store that is the subject of the complaint (i.e., store name, street address, city, state, phone number). The consumer must provide a thorough description of the basis of the complaint, such as the name of the commodity or commodities and the alleged labeling infraction for the complaint to be valid.
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Food Disclosure & Labeling Division
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.,
Room 2069-S, Stop 0216
Washington, DC 20250
If I have questions or want more specific information about COOL, who do I contact?
For additional information about COOL, please contact:
Food Disclosure and Labeling Division
USDA AMS, Fair Trade Practices Program
Room 2069-S, Stop 0216
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250-0216
Questions & Answers Correspondence
(202) 720-4486 (phone)
(202) 260-8369 (Fax)