Here’s What That Block of Colors on Your Food’s Packaging Really Means

| OCT 19, 2016 | 7:27 PM

Joe Raedle

In an age where people are paying far more attention to their health than in years past, it's no surprise that the packaging food comes in has been publicly decoded in recent years.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) even broke down nutrition labels, explaining how to read them and how much of each nutrient you should consume:

But now that many Americans are aware of nutrition labels and what they consist of, but another part of food packaging is being debunked, too: the multicolored row of circles or squares near the nutrition label.

As Slate reports, these blocks are referred to as “printer's color blocks” or “process control patches.”

They actually have nothing to do with what's in your food, but have everything to do with its packaging.

As Mental Floss explains:

“This grid of color swatches indicates which hues of ink were used to produce the design on the package. The printer checks these colored circles or squares to determine whether a package conforms to the necessary color scheme for the product. In the case of any problems, the color blocks let both the human and computerized printers know if a deficiency (or surplus) of color caused the issue.”

Image Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

On the Kellogg's Raisin Bran box you see above, you'll notice the color swatches on the right-hand side of the nutrition label.

The most common colors you'll see are:

  • Black
  • Cyan
  • Magenta
  • Yellow

Bridget Christenson, PR manager for General Mills, further explained to Slate:

“The color blocks are essentially a tool used to understand how a printer is printing at any moment in time to ensure consistency. The blocks provide very technical information about printing conditions that allow printers to quickly adjust. For example, if something looks too red, the color blocks can help to determine if it’s the yellow that is too weak or if it’s the magenta that is too heavy. This keeps printing quality high.”

Christenson added that some packages don't have the color patches; it's all up to the client and what kind of printer they're using.

In some cases, Simple Organic Life reports, the patches could have been there originally, but were cut off during the packaging process.

Bottom line: these color blocks don't have anything to do with the actual food you're eating, so you don't have to worry too much about them when scanning nutrition labels in your pantry or on grocery store shelves.