TRIVIAL PURSUITS: How Did the FDA Determine Serving Sizes?

September 25, 2012 – How did the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determine what constitutes a serving size for various foods?

FDA established reference amounts customarily consumed (RACCs) for 139 food product categories, and these values represent the amount of food customarily consumed at one eating occasion. These reference amounts are based on data set forth in appropriate national food consumption surveys.  

An appropriate national food consumption survey includes a large sample size representative of the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of the relevant population group and is based on consumption data under actual conditions of use.  

To determine the amount of food customarily consumed per eating occasion, FDA considered the mean, median, and mode of the consumed amount per eating occasion.  

When survey data were insufficient, FDA took various other sources of information on serving sizes of food into consideration, including: 

  • Serving sizes used in dietary guidance recommendations or recommended by other authoritative systems or organizations; 
  • Serving sizes recommended in comments; 
  • Serving sizes used by manufacturers and grocers; and 
  • Serving sizes used by other countries. 


Because they reflect the amount customarily consumed, the reference amount and, in turn, the serving size declared on the product label are based on only the edible portion of food, and not bone, seed, shell, or other inedible components. The reference amount is based on the major intended use of the food (e.g., milk as a beverage and not as an addition to cereal).  

The reference amounts for products that are consumed as an ingredient of other foods, but that may also be consumed in the form in which they are purchased (e.g., butter), are based on use in the form purchased.  

FDA sought to ensure that foods that have similar dietary usage, product characteristics, and customarily consumed amounts have a uniform reference amount.
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