What Does “Clean” Food Label Really Mean?









Tell us and tell the FDA what you think should be on the food label.

This week, more than 18,000 of the world’s top food science and technology professionals, representing the most prominent organizations in the global food sector are gathering for the annual Institute of Food Technologist (IFT) meeting. IFT is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and as the meeting is held in New Orleans, the celebration could go wild!  The program includes:  newest products and technologies from around the world, insights, ideas, knowledge, connections, and awareness now being applied across the food system.

One issue that is getting top billing at the meeting and across the food industry is the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s food label revision proposals.  There are many factors driving the FDA to mandate changes in labels: consumers’ expressed desire for the food label to be easier to read and use; and the fact that nutrition science and food consumption data that supported the 1993 regulations are now outdated. You read that right, that was 20 years ago, when there were 34 millions cellphones … worldwide!  Consumer research shows that more than half of food shoppers are using nutrition labeling (IFIC, 2013; Todd, 2014). Evolving nutrition science, including new Dietary Reference Intakes, updated nationwide food consumption data, and up-to-date comprehensive, evidence-based dietary guidelines recommendations warrant changes. Nowadays, quite a lot of us are using cellphones/smartphones to get information about nutrition in addition to the package.

The big question the FDA is wrestling with, in the day of the mobile internet and greater awareness about the impact of food on our health and the planet, is what should be on the food label?  Can we keep the label “clean”?  Can we show that the food is “clean”? Obviously, a label should provide a list of ingredients and nutrition information. But, should there be more? Is it that simple, unambiguous, clean? A label should contain information that we all can understand. Should it include information about natural, somewhat natural, more natural ingredients, processed ingredients and chemical additives?

According to Lynn Dornblaser, Director of Innovation and Insight at Mintel, data shows that 38% of consumers consider whether all the ingredient in a package are “natural” when making food-purchasing decisions.

Mintel’s data tracking product claims from 2009 to 2014 shows that “no additives” is the top claim on all new products launched globally. Products attempting to relay a clean label often showcase traditional ingredients and the absence of artificial components. An example is Unilever’s I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! Deliciously Simple spread, which has the message “100% taste, 0% artificial preservatives” on the packaging. Dornblaser pointed out that the use of the word “simple” in a product’s name is growing. Local ingredients also come into play under the clean label umbrella. Advertising an ingredient’s provenance sends a message to the consumer that the product is authentic and trustworthy.  The farm to market movement is gaining grounds in the US. Stating that something is “Natural”, including clean food label, has become a part of consumers’ health and wellness vocabulary.

Today (Thursday June 26), there is a public meeting at the FDA to discuss the current rules about food labeling with a proposal for revision.   The purpose of the meeting is for FDA to inform the public of the provisions of the proposed rules and the rulemaking process (including how to submit comments, data, and other information to both dockets), respond to questions about the proposed rules, as well as provide an opportunity for interested persons to make oral presentations.

Tell us and tell the FDA what you think should be on the food label.  The food manufacturers sure will. Together, we can make a difference. At least, have a good dialog on what matters.

References: The 2013 Food & Health Survey: Consumer Attitudes Toward Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health.
Kristal, A.R., Levy, L., Patterson, R.E., Li, S.S. and White, E., 1998. J. Public Health. 88: 1212–1215.
Todd, J., 2014. Changes in Eating Patterns and Diet.  http://live.ift.org/2014/06/24/clean-label-is-the-new-natural/ Quality Among Working-Age Adults 2005–2010; ERS, USDA.

About Iris S. Sherman

Co-founder of Kitchology. I am entrepreneur and mom dealing with food allergies in my family. My passion is to make a difference. Especially for those who are dealing with special dietary needs by providing the tools to deliver the right food experience along with the community to embrace it.
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