The Internet Times Supplement

This blog posting is ‘an excellent source of..’

In Food & Drink, Health & Beauty on September 30, 2012 at 11:44 am

… words… ‘will strengthen your immune system’, and is ‘made with whole grains’…. well not quite or not possibly or maybe… and most probably not. We have recently moved from Europe to the States and, as the larder was a little bare in the jam department, I grabbed a jar of ‘ orange marmalade’ from the shelf of a local supermarket to handle the shortage. Just this morning I decided to have some toast with my coffee and went “Mmmm. Time for marmalade.” As I sat drinking my coffee and eating my toast I looked at the label – bear in mind this is a no-name, no-brand, own-brand marmalade so I am not expecting top-notch gourmet or artisan quality (NB: I make most of our own jams, pickles, and preserves) and the taste / texture was ‘OK-ish’ sufficient to satisfy my desire for jamminess…. What I was expecting was something akin to my perception of what constitutes ‘jam, marmalade, preserve’ whatever. In fact, Wikipedia identifies these as “Fruit preserves are preparations of fruits and sugar” and Merriam Webster dictionary determines that jam is “a food made by boiling fruit and sugar to a thick consistency”. What I have received in exchange for a payment at the checkout is “Orange Marmalade with No Artificial Flavors”. Investigating the fine print (this is always important to do in matters concerning life, marriage, potential death, and installing computer software) I noted the following under ‘Ingredients:’:

High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Orange Peel, Orange Juice (water and orange juice concentrate), Fruit Pectin, Citric Acid and Natural Orange Flavor

At this point it is important to divert a little from the main content of this article and clarify why it is important to understand the regulations behind what is on a label, why it is on the label, and why it is in the order it appears on the label.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) writes regulations for food labels and has to balance two separate interests.

1. Inform consumers – the more inclusive a label, the better position a consumer is in to make choices.

2. Provide details of what is in a product and in what proportions while protecting a manufacturers trade secrets.

However, the FDA recognises that it should not force food manufacturers to sacrifice their trade secrets. A manufacturers product ‘identity’ or uniqueness will often depend upon the ingredients in a product, and at what proportions. The regulations represent a middle ground, a balance between the two interests. The philosophy behind food labeling laws, as the FDA’s literature itself states, is to regulate without over-regulating. The FDA balances these interests by requiring that all ingredients be declared while granting a few narrow (but VERY significant) exemptions.

As an example, absent on ingredients labels is the proportion / percentage of each ingredient. The regulations require only that food labels list the ingredients in descending order of predominance according to weight. This means that the heaviest is first, the lightest is last, and so on. As a separate issue altogether, the FDA does not require the manufacturer to go into infinite detail regarding the sum of all the ingredients – it is why the ‘this product is produced in a facility where peanuts are processed’ or similar text appears on some products labels. For people with specific dietary requirements – for religious (halal, kosher) or personal preference (medical, vegetarian) – this can have significant implications. It is not the scope of this article to address this.

Using my ‘orange marmalade’ as an example, there are further issues where the regulations and the resulting ‘clever’ word usage by the producer can have a significant impact on the ingredients and how you perceive them. Take the two examples I give above as an important indicator of this. In my mind,  ‘jam’ SHOULD be nothing more than “fruit and sugar” with perhaps a little pectin where and IF needed.


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