The FDA is temporarily loosening its food labeling policies during the coronavirus pandemic to help minimize supply chain disruptions and give producers more flexibility amid food shortages.
Is this the right move we ask?
Part of it has to do with the shortage of workers and inspectors to monitor the issue, and the FDA’s position is to allow food manufacturers and vending machine operators to amend product ingredients without updating labels as long as the food item being substituted doesn't contain gluten, sulfites or food allergens that may cause adverse health effects. The policy is slated to stay in effect only for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.
Food can be substituted or omitted from the label as long as it's not the major ingredient in the product, and adding or substituting ingredients in a food can't significantly alter the product's nutritional content, the guidelines say. So, an example would be that raisins can't be substituted or eliminated in a product like raisin bread, but green peppers can be omitted from a quiche if the peppers are unavailable.
Manufacturers can also substitute certain oils temporarily when needed, such as canola oil for sunflower oil. And with bleached flour shortages, the FDA is allowing a substitute for unbleached flour.
Here’s the problems we see. While most food companies will adhere to proper substitutions, it is possible that this rule will allow companies to cheat – for example, using cheaper ingredients to substitute. And transparency has never been more important to shoppers as they read labels – and when the labels don’t reflect the product itself – as in a quiche with no peppers, do we start to further impede consumer confidence?