Here's What The Colored Circles On Chip Bags Actually Mean

All the information on food packaging can get confusing quickly — even something as seemingly simple as a bag of chips will likely have a list of ingredients, nutrition info, and a breakdown of the vitamins and minerals in each serving printed on the back. Just those charts and lists alone can feel overwhelming, but then you'll also sometimes see a row of colored circles or squares near the bottom of the package. While it might look like some secret code, it actually doesn't have anything to do with the nutrition facts, or even the food inside the packaging.

According to Mental Floss, those colorful shapes are called "printer's color blocks" or "process control patches." They have nothing to do with your food — instead, they're used to show which colors of ink were used on the packaging. The blocks are a way to test the colors used in the design; if there's too much or too little of one shade being used, that will show up on the color blocks and the printer can adjust accordingly.

Why you might not see printer's color blocks on every package

So, what about when you buy a bag of chips and don't see those little color blocks at the bottom? Since they're just for the manufacturer and printer to double-check, they're not required on packaging, though most large-scale manufacturers use them (via Mental Floss). According to Slate, whether your chips have a row of colored squares or circles on them at all is all down to the preferences of the printer. Sometimes manufacturers will print the squares on a section of the packaging that gets trimmed off later — so they're still able to check the colors, but you don't see the evidence on your bag.

According to Mental Floss, the most common color blocks you'll see are black, magenta, yellow, and cyan, since these four colors are normally used by printers to create other colors. However, according to Slate, sometimes you'll see a wider variety, even including multiple shades of one color, like orange. Manufacturers sometimes include extra spot colors in the test, especially if the packaging is printed with multiple shades of one dominant color (think an orange-heavy package of Cheetos). Now that you know the secret, be sure to check your next bag of chips or package of snacks for printer's color blocks!