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CN Labeling Program

The child nutrition (CN) labeling program is a voluntary federal labeling program for child nutrition programs (CNP). The CN label on a product communicates how the product contributes to CNP meal pattern requirements. CN labeled products provide CNP operators with a warranty against audit claims when the product is prepared according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who runs the CN labeling program?

USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) manages much of the child nutrition (CN) labeling program in collaboration with three other federal agencies:

  • USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS),
  • USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), and
  • U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Seafood Inspection Program (NOAA SIP).
How does the program work?

The program requires an evaluation of a product's formulation to determine its contribution toward CNP meal patterns requirements. It allows manufacturers to state this contribution on their labels. The existence of a CN label on a product provides CNP operators with a guarantee that the product contributes to the meal pattern requirements as printed on the product label.

What products can be CN labeled?

Main dish products that contribute to the meats/meat alternates component of the meal pattern requirements are eligible for a CN label. Examples of these products include but are not limited to beef patties, cheese or meat pizzas, meat or cheese and bean burritos, egg rolls, and breaded fish portions.

What are the requirements for food products to carry CN labels?
  • Contain meat, poultry, seafood, and/or a meat alternate;
  • Contain a minimum of 0.50 oz. equivalent meats/meat alternates per serving;
  • Be produced under federal inspection, equal-to-federal/state inspection, or Canadian inspection; and
  • Be produced under an approved quality control (QC) program or, for seafood products, be produced under the NOAA SIP Approved Establishment (AE) or Approved Establishment and Quality Management Program (AE QMP).
Are manufacturers required to CN-label products?

Products served in child nutrition programs are not federally required to have a CN label. The decision to procure CN labeled products is made at the state and/or local level. If a CN labeled product is desired, CNP operators must clearly state this in their purchasing specifications

Where do I find CN labels?

You will find CN labels on the product’s package, and most often, on foods purchased through a large food distributor. Items purchased in grocery stores generally do not include a CN label, and not all commercially prepared combination food items will have one. The CN labeling office does not provide copies of the CN label.

How can a manufacturer enter the CN labeling program?

Manufacturers must be under federal or equal-to-federal inspection, have an approved quality control program for the CN labeling program, and have a product that contributes at least 0.50 oz. equivalent meat/meat alternate per serving. Refer to the Child Nutrition Labeling Manual for step-by-step guidance on applying for CN label approval. Questions regarding the CN labeling program should be submitted to

What are the advantages of using CN labels?
  • A CN label clearly identifies the contribution of a product toward the meal pattern requirements. It protects CNP operators from exaggerated claims about a product.
  • A CN label provides a warranty against audit claims, if the product is prepared according to the manufacturer’s directions.
  • CN labels simplify cost comparisons of like products.
Are CN labeled products more nutritious than similar non-CN labeled products?

No. While a CN labeled product is guaranteed to contain a certain quantity of food, it does not indicate that the quality of the food, including food safety aspects, is any different than a non-CN labeled food.

Do CN labeled products cost more?

Costs should be similar. Cost comparison between two meat products should be based on the cost per ounce (or pound) that contributes to the meal pattern requirements, not on the product cost per ounce (or pound). Please refer to the Notice to the Trade: Fee for Child Nutrition Labeling Review and Approvals and the Memorandum of Understanding for information regarding program fees.

How do I identify a CN label?

In addition to required labeling features, a CN label will always contain the following:

  • The CN logo (which is a distinct border)
  • The meal pattern contribution statement
  • A 6-digit product identification number
  • USDA authorization statement
  • The month and year of approval.

Sample label statement:

sample CN label for beef crumbles with soy protein
  • The six-digit CN identification number in the upper-right corner is assigned by the AMS-CN labeling program operations office.
  • The date found at the end of this statement reflects the month/year of final approval.

Authorized Labels and Manufacturers

  • CN Label Verification Report
  • CN Label Manufacturers Report
  • National Marine Fisheries Service Establishment Numbers
  • Food Safety and Inspection Service Establishment Numbers

Food Manufacturers/Industry

  • Child Nutrition Labeling Manual
  • CN Labeling Policies and Procedures
  • Quality Control (QC) Requirements
  • Monitoring QC Compliance
  • Helpful Links
  • CN Label Application and Review
  • Manufacturers Product Formulation Statement (PFS)

For More Information

Child Nutrition Labeling Program Operations Office
Phone: (202) 720-9939

Page updated: March 05, 2024