Do you know your food is what it claims? Now you will

Do you know your food is what it claims?  Now you will

Have you ever noticed that “ice cream” you are eating is called frozen dairy dessert on the label?  Or wondered why dairy farmers are upset about dairy alternative milk (think almond milk) being called “milk”?  How do you know your food is what it claims to be?

The FDA sets Standards of Identity for foods.  Food producers cannot make unfounded and potentially illegal claims.  In order to minimize your confusion as a consumer there are rules. 

This “ice cream” is actually Frozen Dairy Dessert

Now, you can now rest assured that the chocolate bar you are eating is in fact chocolate.

The FDA regulates how food is marketed to you

The Food and Drug Administration, FDA, regulates they ways in which food products can be marketed to you.  The FDA sets Standards of Identity for foods.  This includes claims like the product name, minimum quality standards, serving sizes and filling.   

The Food and Drug Administration, FDA, regulates how food products can be marketed to you. 

Standards of Identity guarantee you know your food is what it claims to be

STandards of Identity detail mandatory requirements related to the composition and essential characteristics of a food.  When a food meets the requirements, it is legal to market it under a specific name.

The Standards of Identity are in the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR).  Specific standards vary based on the food.  For example, standards of quality are only minimum standards and establish specifications for the quality requirements.  While fill-of-container standards define how full, the container must be and how filling is measured. 

Other standards outline nutritional requirements.  As examples, the Standard of Identity specifies enriched of bread and the addition of Vitamins A and D to nonfat milk. Fun fact, I worked on TruMoo 🙂

How do you know milk is what it claims to be?
In the Standard of Identity for Milk, the addition of Vitamins A and D to nonfat milk is specified. This includes type and amount that must be added.

So what does this mean?  Standards of Identity outlines what a food product is, can be called, and the ingredients that can be used.  Ultimately, the Standard of Identity specifies what is on the label. 

These rules apply to foods you buy in the grocery store as well as food from restaurants.  For food producers, it is important to make sure the product legal.

What’s in a name? Standards of Identity requirements

The name of the food (also considered the Standard of Identity) must appear on the front label in prominent print.  Manufacturers can only use the name established by law or regulation. 

Food Scientists and product developers need to understand these rules when developing new products. Restaurant cooks and chefs do as well.

How a food is presented on a label is regulated by the FDA. Picture source – FDA

Food manufactures are required to follow guidelines for naming.  Manufacturers can only use the name established by law or regulation.  Interestingly, fanciful names can be use as long as they are understood and commonly used. 

For example, tigernut is making a resurgence right now in the market.  Tigernut is not the name of the plant.  The plant name is yellow nutsedge, but manufacturers can label and call their product tigernut because it is a commonly used name for this plant. 

The plant name is yellow nutsedge, but manufacturers can label and call their product tigernut because it is a commonly used name for this plant.
The plant name is yellow nutsedge, but manufacturers can label and call this product “Tigernut” because it is a commonly used name for this plant. 

On the other hand, if they exist common names must be used.  Usual name use is important because labeling a common or usual food with a new name is misleading.  Back to the tigernut example, manufacturers could not label their product as potato nut.  I made up potato nut because tigernuts are actually tubers, like potatoes.

Along with the naming rules, the name must appear on the front label, in prominent print.  Another important rule is that the label must describe the form of the food.  The package must indicate if the food different optional forms such as sliced and unsliced, and whole or halves.

What about foods labeled imitation? 

Next, have you ever noticed some products are “imitation”?  Generally, in order for a food to be an imitation the food must resemble and is a substitute for the traditional food.  The imitation rule applies if the new “imitation” food contains less protein or a lesser amount of any essential vitamin or mineral.

Classic example for imitation product is imitation American Cheese.  Picture source - FDA
Classic example for imitation product is imitation American Cheese. Picture source – FDA

Back to the question on hand, how do you know if a food is what it claims to be?

In order to reduce your confusion and protect you, the FDA regulates food products with Standards of Identity.  Food producers cannot make unfounded and potentially illegal claims. 

Food must be what it claims to be.  So next time you are eating a new food, you know what you are eating is what it claims to be. 

What do you think?  Are some foods confusing to you?  What about the way your food is labeled?

References

Standards of Identity.  https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/standards-of-identity.  Retrieved 12 July 2020.

Plant-Based Milk Wins Court Battle in Labeling War.  https://foodinstitute.com/focus/plant-based-milk-wins-court-battle-in-labeling-war. Retrieved 12 July 2020.

FDA to ‘modernize certain standards of identity’ as part of strategic policy roadmap.  https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Article/2018/01/13/FDA-to-modernize-certain-standards-of-identity-as-part-of-strategic-policy-roadmap.  Retrieved 12 July 2020.

A Food Labeling Guide. https://www.fda.gov/media/81606/download.  Retrieved 12 July 2020.

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