|| Special 4-Episode Series on Food Safety Day 2023 🌽 ||
The theme for World Food Safety Day this year is “Food Standards Save Lives.”
This podcast highlights the importance of food standards in ensuring food safety. Food standards, also known as standards of identity, are regulations that establish the requirements for labeling food with a common or usual name. These standards cover various aspects of food products, including ingredients, production methods, and processing aids.
To learn more about standards of identity, stream our podcast now.
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Kathy Musa-Veloso Intertek
Hi everyone. I'm very pleased to be here today to discuss the importance of Food Standards in ensuring food safety. The theme for World Food Safety Day is Food Standards, save lives, Food Standards, also called standards of identity, are regulations that establish the rules that must be followed in order for a food to be labeled with a common or usual name. These rules can cover a range of product attributes, including mandatory and optional ingredients and their levels of addition, prohibited ingredients, and even production methods and permissible processing aids. For example, in the U.S., many cheeses, like asiago, blue, brick, Colby, cheddar, cottage, cream, Edam, Gouda, Limburger, and several more, are each associated with a standard of identity. Likewise, treats like cocoa, white chocolate, and milk chocolate have standards of identity. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has, since 1939, developed about 300 standards of identity for 21 food categories that it regulates. In addition, the United States Department of Agriculture has developed standards of identity for products it regulates, such as meat and poultry products. It might surprise people to know that even meals like chili and spaghetti with meatballs are associated with standards of identity.
Standards of identity were first developed by the FDA as far back as 1939. These standards were introduced in order to protect consumers from food fraud, also called “economically motivated adulteration,” or EMA for short. Economically motivated adulteration occurs when a food is intentionally manipulated. For example, food fraud may involve the removal of expensive ingredients, the addition of cheap fillers to create an illusion of greater value or quantity, or the substitution of expensive ingredients for less costly alternatives. Prior to the enforcement of standards of identity, economically motivated adulteration was rampant in the U.S. Milk was diluted with water, rethickened with chalk or plaster dust, and preserved with formaldehyde, leading to the “embalmed milk scandals”. Fruit jams or jellies were sold that barely had any fruit at all. Exotic spices and teas were commonly laced with ground-up coconut shells or other fillers; 100% maple syrup and 100% honey were often adulterated with sugar or corn syrup. 100% lemon juice barely had any lemon juice at all. In many cases the adulteration of food was not only deceptive, but also harmful. For example, red lead was used to give cheddar cheese its beautiful orange color and arsenic was used to glaze chocolates and make them shiny. Lead and arsenic are heavy metals that are toxic, even in small amounts.
The development and enforcement of standards of identity meant that foods familiar to people, with a common or usual name, had to meet certain criteria in order to be named as such. If a food that is associated with a standard of identity fails to meet the conditions defined in the standard, the food is considered adulterated. Because standards of identity are written in regulation, they have the power of law. U.S. regulatory and enforcement bodies work closely together to remove adulterated foods from the market and prevent their market re-entry. Offenders often face criminal and civil penalties.
In addition to protecting consumers from economically motivated adulteration, food standards help to ensure that foods are nutritious. For example, vitamin A is a mandatory ingredient in the standard of identity for margarine. Indeed, given that margarine is often used to replace butter, which itself is rich in vitamin A, margarine was determined to be a suitable vehicle for vitamin A, to increase intake levels, support vision, and reduce the risks of night-blindness and vision loss. There are even standards of identity for milk that allow for the optional addition of vitamins A and D, and standards of identity for nutrient-enriched flours, bakery products, and macaroni products.
As science evolves, new food ingredients and manufacturing methods are developed. These cannot be used in the formulation or production of standardized foods until the respective standards of identity are updated. Because standards of identity are regulations, the process to amend them can be very long and burdensome, both for the industry and for the FDA. Thus, efforts are underway in the U.S. to modernize food standards, making them more flexible and adaptable while ensuring they protect the fundamental nature and essential characteristics of the standardized foods. There is a lot of work ahead to modernize food standards of identity, but we should never lose sight of their importance in ensuring safe and nutritious foods and averting the adulteration of foods for economic gain. Happy World Food Safety Day, everyone! Remember…Food Standards Save Lives!