The FDA’s relaxed labeling rules, here’s what you need to know.
As discussed in an earlier post, the Food and Drug Administration, FDA, regulates food additives (also known as ingredients). Due to COVID, things have changed here is what you need to know about the FDA’s relaxed rules.
The Food and Drug Administration is temporarily allowing food manufactures to substitute ingredients without changing the labels.
Why should you care?
What does that mean for you? You might not know exactly what is in the food products you are consuming. This is a historic event but probably is not a big deal for most of you.
However, if you or a loved one has food allergies or sensitivities, this is very important news. This could spell big trouble if you or a loved one is allergic to one of the substitute ingredients. Consumer Reports explains why it is happening and how you can make safer choices when you shop.
The good news is the substitutions cannot contain one of the main 8 allergens if that allergen is not present. For example, peanut butter companies can use alternative peanuts but cannot add milk.
The bad news is that if you or someone in your family reacts to ingredients other than these 8 major allergens you need to be extremely careful with processed foods. You should call the manufacturers and ask about substitutions.
What to do if you or a family member has sensitives outside of the major allergens?
You should contact the manufacturer of food products that you consume and ask about substitutions. As required by law, you can find the name and address of the manufacturer, packer or distributor on the information panel.
Use this information to contact the company. You can say something like “I have sensitives to foods outside of the main 8 allergens, can you please let me know if you are substituting ingredients per the FDA’s temporary relaxation of labeling rules?” They should be able to let you know yes or no. If the answer is yes, then you can choose to avoid that food product for now or ask for specifics.
Please also note, not all manufacturers are making changes. Ideally, changes are only happening when companies are having supply chain issues.
The FDA’s relaxed labeling rules explained
The FDA states that minor formulation changes must follow these rules:
- Allergens and Sensitivities: Substituted ingredients cannot be ingredients known to cause any adverse health effect. As examples food allergens, sulfites, and glutamates are not usable as alternatives.
- Amount Used: The substituted ingredients are added at 2% or less by weight and is not a major ingredient in the product. As someone who worked in product development, 2% of a formula is not insignificant.
- Main Ingredient: Omitted ingredient cannot be characterizing ingredient. For example, producers cannot leave out cinnamon from cinnamon bread. The cinnamon is a characterizing ingredient.
- Nutrition: Ingredients that are added or deleted cannot affect any nutrient content or health claims on the product’s label.
- Function: Ingredients that are added or left out does not have a significant impact on the finished products functionality.
Examples to demonstrate what this guidance means
Now that you have an idea of what the relaxed rules mean, here are some examples to explain more. The FDA gave examples with the guidance that are easy to use.
The first example is a vegetable quiche. Normally, this vegetable quiche contains small amounts of a onion, tomato and green pepper. The producer can now reduce or omit one of these vegetables without changing the ingredient list on the label. Or the producer can substitute canola oil for sunflower oil because they contain similar types of fats.
The next example may affect you because many of you have been baking. My house is included in this baking frenzy. The FDA is providing temporary flexibility so food manufacturers can substitute unbleached flour for bleached flour without changes to the label is the substitution of “bleached flour.” Some flours need the word “bleached” to appear on the food label. There is shortage of the bleaching agent used to bleach flour because of supply chain problems.
Changes are also allowed for Vending Machines
Due to supply chain issues and changing market conditions the FDA is allowing temporary flexibility to the vending machine industry. For now, operators do not have to meet vending machine labeling requirements. These requirements include calorie information for foods sold in the vending machines at this time.
Again, what does this mean and why is it important?
Due to COVID, the FDA has “temporarily” relaxed their rules for food producers and manufacturers. The Food and Drug Administration is temporarily allowing manufacturers of packaged foods to substitute ingredients without changing the labels. They are also allowing vending machines to be out of labeling compliance for calories and ingredients.
This rule will not affect most of you. Nevertheless, it is important for those of you with sensitives and allergies. If you or someone you love falls in this category, contact your food manufacturers.
For the time being, you may not be eating exactly what you think you are. Hopefully, the food supply chain will stabilize soon. Now you have all need to know about the FDA’s relaxed rules.
Will this rule affect you or not? What do you think about the flexibility of the FDA at this time?
Food Products May Now Contain Unlisted Ingredients. https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/investigations/nbc-7-responds/ood-products-may-now-contain-unlisted-ingredients/2368700/. Retrieved 2 Aug 2020.
What the FDA’s Relaxed Food Label Rules Mean for People With Allergies. https://www.consumerreports.org/food-labels/fda-relaxed-food-label-rules-and-people-with-allergies/. Retrieved 2 Aug 2020.
FDA Announces Temporary Flexibility Policy Regarding Certain Labeling Requirements for Foods for Humans During COVID-19 Pandemic. https://www.fda.gov/food/cfsan-constituent-updates/fda-announces-temporary-flexibility-policy-regarding-certain-labeling-requirements-foods-humans. Retrieved 2 Aug 2020.