Unknown to most Americans, the Food and Drug Administration has for decades regulated the ingredients, composition, flavor and appearance of many foods. In a small victory for consumer choice and food innovation, the FDA this month proposed liberating French dressing and frozen cherry pie.
The 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act authorizes the FDA to regulate the “standards of identity” of hundreds of food products to ensure uniform labelling. Ever wonder why some foods taste and look the same regardless of the brand? Credit the FDA.
The FDA requires ketchup to have a pH of 4.2±0.2 and lemon juice “may be used in quantities no greater than necessary to adjust the pH.” The consistency must also be such “that its flow is not more than 14 centimeters in 30 seconds at 20 °C.” Manufacturers have more leeway with hummus, aioli and pickle relish.
The FDA standards of identity have grown to occupy thousands of pages in the Federal Register and now serve mainly to fatten trial lawyers who can sue manufacturers if their labels don’t conform to government specifications. This is why some low-fat ice creams are labeled frozen dairy desserts.
Since 1950 the FDA has required that French salad dressing be made of oil, “acidifying ingredients” such as vinegar or lemon juice with vegetable oil constituting 35% by weight, though it need not include tomato paste. The FDA is especially vigilant on the threat from frozen cherry pie.
“The fruit content of the pie is such that the weight of the washed and drained cherry content is not less than 25 percent of the weight of the pie,” FDA stipulates, and “not more than 15 percent by count of the cherries in the pie [may be] blemished with scab, hail injury, discoloration, scar tissue, or other abnormality. A cherry showing skin discoloration (other than scald) having an aggregate area exceeding that of a circle nine thirty-seconds of an inch in diameter is considered to be blemished. A cherry showing discoloration of any area but extending into the fruit tissue is also considered to be blemished.”
Behold your government at work. The FDA is now proposing to revoke those standards, which means your desserts no longer risk a federal sanction.
The FDA last updated ingredient rules for many products during the 1990s under Commissioner
who has been tapped by
to lead his Covid-19 task force. While letting innovative drug treatments languish, Mr. Kessler led a campaign against allegedly misleading food labels. Let’s hope the Biden FDA doesn’t drown Americans in heavy regulatory sauce.
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Appeared in the December 28, 2020, print edition.