Can You Believe Front of Package Claims?

Have you ever wondered what exactly “natural” on a food label means? Not only food technologists, but other consumers have wondered as well. In response to questions by consumers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has decided to explore the use of the term “natural.” The agency is asking the public to provide information and comments on the use of this term in the labeling of human food products.

The FDA is taking this action in part because it received three Citizen Petitions asking that the agency define the term “natural” for use in food labeling and one Citizen Petition asking that the agency prohibit the term “natural” on food labels. FDA also notes that some Federal courts, as a result of litigation between private parties, have requested administrative determinations from the FDA regarding whether food products containing ingredients produced using genetic engineering or foods containing high fructose corn syrup may be labeled as “natural.”

Although the FDA has not established a formal definition for the term “natural,” it does have a longstanding policy concerning the use of “natural” in human food labeling. The FDA has considered the term “natural” to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food. That seems like a reasonable definition. However, the FDA policy does not address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation. The FDA also did not consider whether the term “natural” should describe any nutritional or other health benefit.

The FDA is now seeking public comment on questions such as: Whether it is appropriate to define the term “natural;” if so, how should the agency define “natural;” and, finally, how should the agency determine the appropriate use of the term on food labels.

The FDA started accepting public comments in Nov. 2015. To electronically submit comments to the docket, visit http://www.regulations.gov and type FDA-2014-N-1207 in the search box. Comments on the rule must be received by Feb. 2016.

In this issue of the journal, a group of researchers analyzed front of package (FOP) claims to determine if they are good indicators of the nutritional quality of a food product. The goal of the research was to examine if the presence and number of all FOP nutrition claims seen in the market can differentiate between products of various levels of nutrition quality among U.S. breakfast cereals and prepared meals.

From Journal of Food Science:  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1750-3841.13021/full

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