Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What's in a Name? Part 2

As many of you walk through the store you come across packaging terms that seem to express quality, but are these really quality products, or are these terms nothing more than smoke and mirrors.  The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) records and defines “Standards of Identity” which are terms used for certain foods that cannot be used on other foods.  For example, you can’t legally label whipped topping as whipped cream, since one is made from oil and one is made from milk fat.  These standards are put in place to assure truth and honesty in producing and packaging any product.  However, not every term is identified, and as a new term becomes popular and is used over and over, if it needs to be defined, the FDA will work toward coming up with a standard definition.  Let’s take a look at a few terms that have become popular in recent years:

Organic:  The world has seen a huge increase in Organic foods produced and consumed over the past 10 years and with that comes the potential for mislabeling.  However, a few years back, the FDA set to work to define what it means to be organic.  It is important to note that the term “Organic” does NOT refer to the quality of the product, it only refers to a process by which foods are grown and harvested.  For example, organic crop production must occur on sites that have been free from prohibited materials (usually pesticides) for at least 3 years and must be managed without the use of prohibited materials, or organic livestock production requires that animals be fed 100% organic feed, have access to pasture for ruminants and access to the outdoors for non ruminants, and prohibits the use of antibiotics and hormones.  Organic foods are not healthier or cleaner or better tasting nor do they last longer than non-organic foods, they simply are foods grown under certain conditions that meet FDA guidelines.

When it comes to food labeling, you have to realize that it’s in the manufacturer’s best interest to glorify their product as much as possible.  However with a little education and reading, you can learn what terms carry weight, and what terms are fluff.  It’s not fair to milk to allow “white diary-based beverage” to get equal billing.  Standards of Identity keep manufacturers in check from talking advantage of the consumers and allow consumers to buy a product like “Rainbow Sherbet” on one side of the country that is made to very similar guidelines as it is on the other side of the country.


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