The roll-out of food labels designed to help US shoppers eat more healthily has been halted after food safety officials started an investigation on whether nutrition claims within the labels were misleading.

The Smart Choices Program, launched in August across hundreds of products, said that it will “voluntarily postpone active operations and not encourage wider use of the logo at this time by either new or currently enrolled companies”.

Participating companies include: Kellogg, Kraft Foods and General Mills, Unilever, PepsiCo’s Quaker Foods and ConAgra Foods. Brands carrying the Smart Choices seal include Ragu Italian cooking sauces and Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn.

The Food and Drug Administration said it was examining nutrition claims on the front of packages and would consider “enforcement actions” against clear violations of these established labelling requirements.

In a letter posted on its website, the agency also said it was developing proposed regulation to define criteria for front-of-package claims and exploring if consumers would benefit from a single symbol to give a quick and accurate idea of nutritional content.

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Mike Hughes, chair of the Smart Choices Program and vice president for science and public policy at the Keystone Center, said it welcomed the FDA’s interest in developing uniform front-of-package and shelf-labelling criteria.

“The Smart Choices Program shares that exact goal, and was designed to provide a voluntary front-of-package labelling programme that could promote informed food choices and help consumers construct healthier diets,” Hughes said. “We continue to believe the Smart Choices Program is an important step in the right direction.”

The Smart Choices Program said it will continue to work with those who have an interest in front-of-package labelling, such as Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who has asked for information about the development of the programme, which the group said it is providing.

The programme, first unveiled last autumn, measures products against a set of nutritional criteria, including limits on ingredients like saturated fat and salt, as well as the amount of “nutrients to encourage”, including calcium, potassium and fibre.

Products that qualify carry the Smart Choices symbol on packages, which will also carry information about the number of calories per serving and number of servings per container.