Nutrition-wise blog

Misleading food labels prompt FDA action

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. March 19, 2010

In the past few weeks, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sent warnings to 17 manufacturers about false or misleading nutrition information on the food labels of 22 of their products. The products cited include juices, teas, ice creams, baby foods, olive oil, salad dressings and vegetable shortening.

Why is this important? More and more shoppers are using food labels to make important food choices — and we should expect food labels to be truthful, not misleading. At the very least, it's irritating to consume "extra light" olive oil thinking that "light" means lower in fat and calories only to find that it's only "light" in color or taste. At worst, it would be tragic to have a heart attack and discover that "trans-fat-free" foods high in saturated fat were clogging your arteries.

Examples of misleading claims on food labels include:

Claim: "Extra Light Olive Oil."
Violation: The term "light" is misleading because the fat content is not reduced by 50 percent compared to a similar appropriate reference food. (The manufacturer recently altered the label to read "Extra Light Tasting Olive Oil.")

Claim: "0 grams trans fat"
Violation: The products cited do not have disclosure statements alerting consumers that the products have significant levels of saturated and total fat.

Claim: "No added refined sugar," "Plus fiber" or "Plus calcium" on baby food labels
Violation: Nutrient claims are not allowed on products intended for children younger than 2 years of age because dietary levels have not been established for this age group.

Manufacturers were given 15 days to inform the FDA about their plans to correct the violations. If the response is not satisfactory, the result could be injunctions against the manufacturers including product seizures.

I'm glad to see the FDA stepping up to enforce truth in labeling. What's your take? What do you find confusing about food labels?

- Jennifer

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March 19, 2010