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Barbara Ficarra

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Front Food Labels are Misleading: FDA is Ready to Tackle Food Manufacturers

Posted: 10/26/09 02:45 PM ET

Did you ever go food shopping and pick up a product because the front food label claims that the product is healthy? If you have, you're not alone. Many consumers are falling into the trap of buying products because of misleading front food labels.

The front of some food labels or front-of-packages (FOP) are constructed in such a creative way that they are often misleading and confusing. Words and symbols highlight the product as healthy. The label captures your attention and it gives you the impression that the food you are about to buy is good for you, but it is not.

The next time you head down the food aisle, check out the front food labels.

Unless you turn the package over to read the list of ingredients, it's impossible to tell if it's healthy or not.

Recently in the Washington Post, Jennifer LaRue Huget, blogger for "The Check Up" writes about the new unhealthy line of Kraft Lunchables.

Kraft calls the new line "wholesome," but are they?

Turkey and Cheddar Sub Sandwich seems like it could be a healthy choice, but actually it is filled with fat, sodium and sugar. Here's a complete list of ingredients that may shock you.

Digging a little deeper

I'm curious now to find out what's behind the "New Deep Dish Cheese Pizza." Here's how it's described:


You won't have to dig deep for our Deep Dish Pizza, made with Kraft 2% Mozzarella and 2% Cheddar, deep dish crust made with whole grain, Tombstone Pizza Sauce, Tree Top® Applesauce, Mini Nilla Wafers, spring water and Tropical Punch Kool-Aid Singles.

It doesn't sound so bad, does it? Low fat cheese, whole grain crust, pizza sauce, applesauce, mini Nilla Wafers, spring water; what's so bad about that? One more ingredient includes Tropical Punch Kool-Aid Singles. Hmm...what was wrong with just the water? Why add all that sugar?

Okay, I'm digging deeper now to read the ingredients. Well, take a peek, and you decide. The long list of ingredients isn't healthy. The Deep Dish Pizza is filled with fat, calories, sodium, cholesterol, and sugar.

The government crackdowns on misleading food labels

FDA director Barbara O. Schneeman wrote recently in a letter to the industry that "The agency is currently analyzing FOP labels that appear to be misleading."

Schneeman writes in the letter to the industry:

"FDA's research has found that with FOP labeling, people are less likely to check the Nutrition Facts label on the information panel of foods (usually, the back or side of the package). It is thus essential that both the criteria and symbols used in front-of-package and shelf-labeling systems be nutritionally sound, well-designed to help consumers make informed and healthy food choices, and not be false or misleading."

Accurate food labels are critical

Food labels need to be accurate and are necessary to help consumers make healthy choices. Accurate front food labels can help consumers easily identify which foods are healthy and which ones are not.

"FDA intends to monitor and evaluate the various FOP labeling systems and their effect on consumers' food choices and perceptions. FDA recommends that manufacturers and distributors of food products that include FOP labeling ensure that the label statements are consistent with FDA laws and regulations" writes Schneeman in her letter to the industry.

The government wants to improve health

The FDA plans to develop a regulation that helps identify nutritional criteria that manufacturers have to meet before putting claims on the front label claiming their product nutritious. The intent of the FDA is "to provide standardized, science-based criteria on which FOP nutrition labeling mush be based."

"We want to work with the food industry - retailers and manufacturers alike - as well as nutrition and design experts and the Institute of Medicine, to develop an optimal, common approach to nutrition-related FOP and shelf labeling that all Americans can trust and use to build better diets and improve their health," writes Schneeman in her letter.

Next time you're food shopping

The next time you head out for food shopping, read the ingredients on the side or back label. The ingredients will give you a better idea if the product you are about to buy is healthy or not.

Take the front food label challenge test

The next time you're at the supermarket and wandering down the aisles, check out some of the food labels on the front of the package--does it look healthy? Do you want to buy it? Now, turn it over and read the ingredients. You decide.

[Just a note on the Schneeman's letter to the industry. The info posted here on the FDA's quest to tackle food manufacturers regarding front food labels is not being written to highlight the FDA with good PR, but simply to let readers know that the FDA recognizes there's a problem and they are working on initiatives to address it. I will be bringing you more on this topic as it is a very important one).

Stay tuned for more info on this topic.

I'm just curious, do you read the list of ingredients on the food label? Do you buy products based on the front food label? Thanks.

 

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