Category Archives: Food Additives

Fish, Honey, and Juice are Especially Vulnerable to Food Fraud in the Grocery Store

Gatorade to remove an ingredient in response to a teenager’s online petition

here is the petition Sarah created

http://www.change.org/petitions/gatorade-don-t-put-flame-retardant-chemicals-in-sports-drinks

Changes to General Mills Packaging in 2014

I am always happy to see my friends and family making an effort to buy healthier products at the grocery store (even more excited when they cook from scratch with them), but unless you are particularly interested in health and nutrition, you probably do not have the background or experience to interpret some of the health and nutrition claims on many processed food packagings – that is why consumer protection groups often address what they consider to be misleading advertisements and packaging. To be sure, there is a component of personal responsibility that cannot be ignored, the consumer cannot be protected from itself entirely, he or she should make a reasonable effort to police his or her own purchasing decisions, but I believe that expectation should be in the context of reasonably clear and fair information with which to make those purchasing decisions. I doubt anyone is under the illusion that Krispi Cream Donuts are healthy or contain any nutrtious ingredients, but they taste good to many people and many people buy them, knowing full well what they are eating.

But as the American consumer has become more health conscious, companies sometimes use advertising in ways that are misleading. Not everyone agrees with that assessment, and there is disagreement about the degree to which certain packaging claims are deceptive.

The Federal Trade Commission recently ruled that advertisements from juice maker POM Wonderful contained health claims that were misleading and unsubstantiated. This was not the first confrontation between the regulator and the company. In 2010, the FTC sued POM Wonderful for claiming that its drinks helped prevent heart disease and cancer.

The POM case is just one example of a slew of recent confrontations companies have had with regulators, customers and advocacy groups for false advertising and misleading labeling. Foods labelled as healthy or “all-natural” have been targeted most frequently. Other products at issue have ranged from shoes to cars. Based on recent reports, 24/7 Wall St. has reviewed the most misleading product claims.

Other government agencies, in addition to the FTC, have taken action against companies to protect consumers from misleading advertising. Last November, the Environmental Protection Agency publicly said that Hyundai and Kia, sister South Korean automakers, misrepresented the fuel efficiency of several of their models and required the company to change its advertising.

The majority of the cases on this list are related to food or drink products claiming to have benefits they do not have or, at the very least, that the company does not have the evidence to support. Diamond Foods, for one, was sued after it claimed its walnuts have heart benefits without having supporting evidence. General Mills’ Fruit Roll-Ups had pictures of strawberries and other fruits on the box, yet the product is made with pear concentrate, and with no strawberries of any kind.

One of the public interest groups that has been at the forefront of suits related to food or drink and health is consumer advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The CSPI has been involved in several of the lawsuits on this list.

In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Stephen Gardner, the Director of Litigation at CSPI, explained that there has been a major uptick in actions over food and beverage products and their health claims. Gardner explained that a major reason for this increase is a notable lack of clarity in FTC language on some kinds of food labeling. This extends to whether or not a company can label its product as “all-natural,” as well as claims about the healthiness of products.

“Eight years ago” Gardner noted, “there were, four, possibly three private lawsuits. When we showed this was a viable consumer lawsuit, many, many more people got involved.” Gardner added that this growth has been exponential.

Last year, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to volunteer for CSPI and help draft a section of a reply brief submitted by the plaintiff in the General Mills law suit. The law suit ended in a settlement, with General Mills agreeing to packaging changes starting in 2014.

General Mills agreed to improve its labeling for Strawberry Naturally Flavored Fruit Roll-Ups, an agreement that resolved a lawsuit brought against the company by a consumer who represented CSPI. Strawberry Naturally Flavored Fruit Roll-Ups contain no strawberries, but are made with pear concentrate, corn syrup, dried corn syrup, sugar, partially hydrogentated cottonseed oil, and 2% or less of various natural and artificial flavors. Based on the settlement, as long as the product contains no strawberries, the new labels will not depict images of strawberries. And, so long as the product’s label carries the claim “Made with Real Fruit,” such claims will be required to include the actual percentage of fruit in the product. Both of these changes will take effect in 2014. It was a real honor to work with Steve Gardener and Amanda Howell in contributing to the brief.

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“By stating the actual percentage of fruit in the product, these labels will be less likely to lead consumers to believe that the product is all or mostly fruit,” said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. “A more accurate name for the product would be Pear Naturally Flavored Fruit Roll-Ups, since pear is present and strawberry is absent. But the removal of pictures of strawberries is a step in the right direction. We are pleased to have worked cooperatively with General Mills to reach this agreement.”

ps. Homemade Fruit Roll-Ups are super easy and far more nutritious

check out this recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod, it requires only two ingredients

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In the alternative, there are a number of brands making fruit leather with more nutritious ingredients than most conventional brands

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Stretch Island Fruit Company sells theirs with no sugar added and is available for only $.87 per ounce on Amazon.com (compared to $.43 per ounce for the General Mills variety that contains Pears From Concentrate, Corn Syrup, Dried Corn Syrup, Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Pectin, Distilled Monoglycerides, Malic Acid, Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid), Acetylated Mono And Diglycerides, Natural Flavor, Color (Red 40, Yellows 5&6, Blue 1)

Shredded Coconut

Drew’s mom makes the best granola I have ever tried, and I’ve tried quite a few. It never lasts very long when she mails Drew a fresh supply of her homemade granola from Indianapolis. The original recipe does not call for shredded coconut, but Kathleen adds some, and Drew loves that part. He likes adding shredded coconut to foods (even ground beef, which tastes real good). So, I try and always have shredded coconut on hand.

Coconut has lately received a lot of attention for all its health properties. And it does have several. However, it should be noted that not all packages of shredded coconut are processed the same way.

Several (sometimes most) varieties found in grocery stores contain added ingredients, ingredients that many consumers may want to avoid, such as added sweeteners, sulfites, or preservatives. Thankfully, as consumers become more discerning and demanding, healthier versions of shredded coconut are becoming more popular in regular grocery stores – you do not always need to shop at a Whole Foods type market to find these healthier versions of shredded coconut.

For example, the ingredient list for one popular brand, Kraft Bakers ,

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reads as follows: coconut, sugar, water, propylene glycol (preserves freshness), salt, sodium metabisulfite (retains coconut whiteness). And it is advertised as being “The moistest Coconut on the market! It sells for approximately $3.30 for a 14-ounce bag, or $.23 per ounce on Amazon.com

For other brands, such as Bob’s Red Mill,

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the ingredient list reads as follows: Natural, Unsulphured Coconut. It sells for approximately $3.09 for a 12 ounce bag, or $.77 per ounce on Amazon.com.

Now, many may be wondering what is the difference, other than price, between these two options. It all comes down to the ingredients, let’s take a closer look at the conventional brand’s ingredients: coconut, sugar, water, propylene glycol (preserves freshness), salt, sodium metabisulfite (retains coconut whiteness). The coconut in conventional brands may well be very similar to the coconut used in more unprocessed varieties. But the conventional brand also adds sugar, which is most likely conventionally produced and refined sugar (which is typically made white by granular activated carbon [GAC], or ion exchange resin which removes less colour than GAC but also removes some of the inorganics present. The conventional brand also adds propylene glycol, which though it shows a very low acute oral toxicity , and large quantities are required to cause perceptible health damage in humans, it is still an additive that many consumers would rather avoid. The conventional brand also includes salt, which is a generic term to describe one of many different kinds of salt. Most likely, conventional brands of shredded coconut use refined table salt, a form of salt that typically has added anti-caking chemicals, and added iodine. Refined salt is also processed at high temperatures, altering the molecular structure of the salt and removing the beneficial trace minerals. Unrefined salt is approximately 84% sodium chloride and 16% other minerals. Refined salt is approximately 97.5% sodium chloride and 2.5% chemical additives. Lastly, the conventional brand of shredded coconut had added sodium metabisulfite, a popular conserving and antioxidizing agent used in food, drugs, and cosmetics, to which a small portion of the population is allergic.

For consumers trying to avoid food additives and excess sugar and salt, alternatives to conventional shredded coconut brands is probably a good idea.

Here is the granola recipe Kathleen shared with me:

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Ingredients
4 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup shelled, raw unsalted sunflower seeds
1 1/2 cups slivered raw almonds
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 1/4 cups pure Grade A dark amber maple syrup
1/3 cup canola oil
Kathleen also adds shredded coconut, barley flakes and flax meal as well (and then a bit more oil and maple syrup to help coat the extra dry ingredients)Directions
1) position rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees
2) Place oats, sunflower seeds, almonds and cinnamon in large bowl and stir to combine.  Add the maple syrup and oil and stir until dry ingredients are moistened.
3) Spread granola on 12×17 inch rimmed baking sheet.  Bake granola until it begins to brown about 25 minutes, then stir with a spatula.Continue to bake until light golden brown, dry and fragrant- about 15-20 minutes longer.  Stir once more and watch during final minutes because it can burn quickly.
4) Place on a cooling rack and add raisins- stir to combine.  Let cool completely and transfer to airtight container.  Can be stored at room temperature for 1 month or frozen for 6 months.

The Duchess of Cambridge Grocery Shopping

I just adore Kate Middleton. I don’t enjoy following celebrities, at all, except Kate. She is just such a classy young lady. Of course, you can never tell what a celebrity is like in real life, based solely on what the press reports. But, since I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Kate, the press is all I can go on. And she certainly does seem like a very graceful, confident yet humble, and gracious princess.

So yes, I do occasionally pick up a magazine when I see her on the cover….oh who am I kidding, I always pick it up if I see her on the cover.

But what does this have to do with food law and more importantly, your grocery store shopping experience, oh I am so glad you asked.

In honor of Kate Middleton and her sightings at Tesco’s (the local British grocery store), here are some interesting tidbits about what you will find in American grocery stores, that you will not find in any British ones.

(but first some pictures of the newly married Princess Catherine, doing groceries for her and her hubby)

Catherine does the grocery shopping

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Now, back to the food and law business.

Kate reportedly purchased a lot of fruits and veggies on this particular outing, and also, some ice cream. Now ice cream may seem pretty universal to the average consumer, but you are no average consumer, and now you will understand why we in America have certain options when it comes to our ice cream selections that Kate did not have on that April day when she went to the local Tesco’s in Anglesey Wales.

This side of the pond, many of our grocery stores carry ice cream varieties that include artificial food colors (or, as the Brits say, “colours”). There are currently seven different artificial food colors that are approved for use by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The three most popular are Red #40, Yellow #5, and Blue #1

Many popular ice cream brands in the US use artificial colors. Take for example Edy’s Slow Churned Mint Chocolate Chip – one of my boyfriend’s favorite ice cream flavors (but he doesn’t buy Edy’s, he scopes out the organic section at our local grocery store for specials and avoids all these less than desirable ingredients, which is why we get along). This particular product has the following ingredients: non-fat milk, cream, sugar, corn syrup, chocolaty chips (sugar, coconut oil, cocoa processed with alkali, fractionated palm kernel oil, cocoa, soy lecithin, salt, natural flavor), whey protein, buttermilk, molasses, acacia gum, carob bean gum, guar gum, yellow 5, blue 1, carrageenan, natural flavor. There are two artificial colors found in this flavor that Kate probably would not find in any of the ice cream flavors available to her at Tesco’s.

That is because in the UK, several major companies have voluntarily chosen not to use artificial colors in their products, even though they continue to manufacture the same product for the US market with the inclusion of the artificial color.

A little background first.

Lately, there has been quite a bit of talk about the science of artificial food colors (both lakes and dyes). Do artificial colors contribute to hyperactivity in children? This is the question that has dominated much of the conversation. The answers are not clear-cut. In analyzing the conflicting answers, it is important to always keep another question in mind – “who funded the research?”

Many of the studies relied upon by FDA to assess the safety of artificial food colors were funded by food companies that manufacture artificial colors. FDA has concluded there is not enough evidence to demonstrate a link between artificial food colors and hyperactivity in children, and has further concluded they should remain permitted in the American food supply. Of course, this position does not preclude parents and other consumers from avoiding them, it just means the parent or consumer needs to be intentional about avoiding them.

Interestingly, many companies, such as Kraft, Coca Cola, Wal-Mart, and even Mars (makers of M&Ms candy) have already removed these artificial food colors from products they distribute in some other countries, such as England – and they did so voluntarily. They have reformulated their product lines in other countries to no longer include these artificial food colors, a move they made, again, voluntarily, in response to consumer demand and an important study called the Southampton Study.

The Southampton Study was unique in that it tested the synergistic effect of multiple food colors, because children are seldom exposed to only one artificial color – usually they are exposed to a combination (for example, Yellow #5 and Blue #1 in Edy’s Slow Churned Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream). The Study was also unique in that it was funded, not by industry, but by the British national food safety agency. It was this Study and the consumer reaction to its findings that prompted even American companies to remove artificial colors (and sodium benzonate, a preservative) from their U.K. products. For example, the strawberry variety of the Kellog’s Nutri-Grain Cereal Bars have two formulations,

I am particularly impressed by the fact that these companies removed these artificial colors voluntarily. For example, Asda, the U.K. branch of Wal-Mart, acted one week after details were leaked to the UK press about the results of the Southampton Study. They did not even wait for the study to be published before making their move.

In an article published by the Food and Drink Federation, a Web site that monitors food issues in Europe, Jess Halliday reported that “Asda [U.K. Wal-Mart] has pledged to remove any artificial colours or flavours from its 9,000 own label products, as well as aspartame, hydrogenated fat, and flavour enhancers such as monosodium glutamate.” And the Study did not even mention those last three items.

According to Asda/U.K. Wal-Mart food trading director Darren Blackhurt, “We know that our customers, particularly those that are mums and dads, are becoming more and more concerned about what’s in the food they buy.” And in 2008, Coca-Cola announced it would remove sodium benzonate from its products, but only in the U.K.

“We know that artificial colours are of concern to consumers, which is why, in 2006, Mars began a programme to remove them from our products. . . in November 2007, Starburst Chews became free from all artificial colours. . . . in December 2007, Skittles were made free from all the artificial colours highlighted in a landmark study by Southampton University. . . We have already removed four colours mentioned in the Southampton study from Peanut and Choco M&M’s, and are in the process of removing the final one so they too will be free from these artificials during 2008.”—Mars UK

“From September 2007, the UK’s favourite kids’ chocolate brand—Milky Bar—is to be made with all natural ingredients.”—Nestlé UK

“We are committed to replacing all artificial colours in our sweets. We note the Southampton University findings, but we had begun this process already because we are continually listening to our customers.” —UK Cadbury Chocolate division

A BBC report quotes Asda/U.K. Wal-Mart as saying that in “its decision to halt the use of artificial colours and flavours, [it] was acting because ‘mums and dads are becoming more and more concerned about what’s in the food they buy.’” An Asda/U.K. Wal-Mart press release elaborates: “Reformulation was hard work, but it was a labour of love.”

Mums and Dads in the UK are certainly affecting the nature of the foods their children will grow up eating and what foods are even available in the grocery stores – I wonder what kind of food Kate and William will feed the new prince or princess! Well, according at least to the press, an insider of the soon-to-be first time mom told Us Weekly, “Kate promised herself she would only eat healthy until the birth,” the insider said, adding, “As soon as she can eat normally again, she’ll be avoiding processed foods.”

And here is one last picture of Kate, this time expecting her first baby 🙂

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge