Food Labels

June 9, 2013

As someone who cares about what your family eats, you make it a practice when shopping to read the labels on food packages.  And you have the right to expect that the information on the label, including the ingredient list, is accurate.

The good news is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has your back.

The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act—which provides authority for FDA’s consumer-protection work—requires that labels on packaged food products in interstate commerce not be false or misleading in any way.

To that end, as resources permit, FDA monitors food products to ensure that the labels are truthful and not misleading, explains Michael W. Roosevelt, acting director of compliance at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN). If a product is not labeled as required by law, the agency takes appropriate action.

For example, when FDA received complaints from U.S. firms and attorneys alleging that imports of pomegranate juice concentrates were not, as labeled, 100% pomegranate, the agency took a closer look.

After conducting its own analyses, FDA found that some of the samples contained undeclared ingredients, including artificial colors, sweeteners and less expensive fruit juices, such as black currant, apple, pear or cherry juices, in place of pomegranate juice.

FDA issued an import alert for pomegranate juice exported by certain companies in Iran and Turkey, based on findings that the samples FDA analyzed were “not as they were represented to be on the labels and therefore adulterated and misbranded.” An import alert allows FDA to detain, without physical examination,   imported products that appear to violate the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. When a shipment is detained, the importer has a window of opportunity to introduce evidence to overcome the appearance of a violation, during which time the product cannot be distributed.

In other circumstances, when the agency identifies a food product with labeling that is false or misleading (misbranded), it may inform the manufacturer, often in the form of a warning letter, of the violation of law and ask the firm to correct the problem. Most firms contacted by FDA about a labeling violation voluntarily comply, Roosevelt says.

Those that do not can be subject to additional legal action to remove the misbranded products from commerce. Under such circumstances, these products cannot return to the market until the manufacturers take action to correct the violations.

“In the case of the pomegranate juice,” Roosevelt says, “the burden is on the importer to show that the product labeling is accurate.” “Otherwise, the juice is not going to make it into the U.S.”

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