Foodfacts.com wants to help make you more aware about some of the things that manufacturers hide on their labels. Manufacturers are aware that many consumers would prefer not to have MSG in their food. Some manufacturers have responded by using “clean labels,” i.e., labels that contain only ingredient names they think consumers will not recognize as containing MSG — names such as “hydrolyzed soy protein.” Others advertise “No MSG,” “No MSG Added,” or “No Added MSG,” even though their products contain MSG.
Most offenders are small processors who are possibly being misguided by the FDA, the USDA, and/or consultants. Hain and Campbell’s, both large companies, are among those who have been alerted to both the deception that they are perpetrating and the illegality of what they are doing, yet continue with what the FDA has, in the past, termed deceptive and misleading labeling.
Placing “No MSG,” “No MSG Added,” or “No Added MSG” on food labels has been deemed by the FDA to be false and misleading under section (403)(a)(1) of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act when the label also lists any hydrolyzed protein as an ingredient since it contains MSG.” Thus, to advertise “No MSG,” “No MSG Added,” or “No Added MSG” when there is processed free glutamic acid (MSG) in a product is illegal.
At one time, the FDA responded to the illegal use of the term “No MSG Added,” with both a Regulatory Letter and threat of seizure and injunction in case of non-compliance.(4) At one time, State Attorneys General sued manufacturers that made such claims, and won consent decrees from them, and sometimes fines were imposed.(5-6) But when the FDA began to look the other way, and the State Attorneys General turned their attention to other matters, the deceptive and misleading use of “No MSG” and No Added MSG” once more began proliferating.
Following the FDA’s announcement in 1995 that “…FDA considers foods whose labels say “No MSG” or “No Added MSG” to be misleading if the food contains ingredients that are sources of free glutamates, such as hydrolyzed protein,”(7) the incidence of such misleading and deceptive labels regulated by the FDA began to decline. At the same time, similar labels regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) continued proliferating. At the USDA they don’t simply fail to enforce the regulation. The USDA actually approves labels of meat and poultry products that claim “No MSG,” “No MSG Added,” or “No Added MSG” when they contain free glutamic acid.
Clearly, it is false and misleading to claim “No MSG” or “No MSG Added” on a product label when MSG is present, even if it is present as a constituent of an ingredient.
Those making such claims should be able to demonstrate, through valid tests for free glutamic acid content, that there is no (zero) free glutamic acid in their products.
Even if one could assume that a particular label reflected the ingredients actually in the product (which one cannot), review of product labels to determine the presence of MSG would not be satisfactory, and will not substitute for analysis of the end product. The number of products/ingredients /substances that contain MSG is not finite, i.e., new ingredients that contain MSG are invented and/or renamed every day. To keep track of them would be virtually impossible. Moreover, MSG can be freed from protein during processing or manufacture given appropriate conditions. For example, any ingredient that contains a bit of protein can be hydrolyzed if hydrochloric acid, enzymes, heat, and/or other substances or conditions that cause glutamic acid to be separated out of its host protein are present, resulting in some processed free glutamic acid (MSG). Hydrolyzation of protein inevitably creates some (processed) free glutamic acid (MSG).
Only if there is no (zero) free glutamic acid in an end product can one legitimately claim that there is no MSG. The burden of proof for a claim about the absence of MSG must lie with those making the claim.
If you write or call to ask whether or not there is MSG in a product…
If you want to find out if there is processed free glutamic acid (MSG) in a product, you must ask the manufacturer for information about “free glutamic acid.” Don’t ask about “MSG.” Manufacturers find it convenient, when speaking to consumers, to tell them that there is no “MSG” in their product, meaning that there is no ingredient called “monosodium glutamate.” Even if a manufacturer tells you there is no MSG in a product, there may be autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed pea protein, carrageenan, sodium caseinate, enzymes, and a whole slew of other ingredients that contain or create processed free glutamic acid (MSG) during manufacture.
If you are told that all of the MSG in a product is “naturally occurring,” thank the manufacturer for that meaningless information, but explain that all processed free glutamic acid (MSG) is referred to as “natural” by the FDA — so “natural” tells you nothing. In fact, as the word “natural” is defined by the FDA, the food ingredient “monosodium glutamate” is “natural.”
It is the amount of processed free glutamic acid in the product that will determine whether or not you might suffer an MSG reaction. (Everyone has a different tolerance for MSG.) If the manufacturer claims not to know whether or not there is processed free glutamic acid (MSG) in his or her product, ask that the product be analyzed for free amino acids, including free glutamic acid. There are tests for measuring free glutamic acid. The AOAC Official Methods of Analysis (1984) gives one method. There are others. The cost of testing should be no more than $150.
We have been advised by the FDA that if any such misbranded products are brought to their attention, they will act to correct the situation. To report misbranded products to the FDA, please call the FDA at 888-723-3366 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., eastern time – and keep a record of your call.