Tag Archives: label reading

MSG is sometimes hidden in food with labels that say “No Added MSG,” “No MSG Added,” and “No MSG”

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.

Is “Natural Flavoring” Really Natural?

Foodfacts.com wants everyone to be aware of what the term “Natural Flavor” means on the side of a products label. We’ve all heard of products being labeled “artificially flavored” or “naturally flavored,” but ever wonder what exactly “natural flavor” means? Is it really natural? What is the difference? Well, the definition of “natural flavor” under the Code of Federal Regulations is: “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional” (21CFR101.22). Any other added flavor therefore is artificial. (For the record, any monosodium glutamate, or MSG, used to flavor food must be declared on the label as such). Both artificial and natural flavors are made by “flavorists” in a laboratory by blending either “natural” chemicals or “synthetic” chemicals to create flavorings. Gary Reineccius, a professor in the department of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota says “The distinction in flavorings–natural versus artificial–comes from the source of these identical chemicals and may be likened to saying that an apple sold in a gas station is artificial and one sold from a fruit stand is natural.” He also says, “Artificial flavorings are simpler in composition and potentially safer because only safety-tested components are utilized. Another difference between natural and artificial flavorings is cost. The search for “natural” sources of chemicals often requires that a manufacturer go to great lengths to obtain a given chemical…. Furthermore, the process is costly. This pure natural chemical is identical to the version made in an organic chemist’s laboratory, yet it is much more expensive than the synthetic alternative. Consumers pay a lot for natural flavorings. But these are in fact no better in quality, nor are they safer, than their cost-effective artificial counterparts.”

So what about organic foods? Foods certified by the National Organic Program (NOP) must be grown and processed using organic farming methods without synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes, petroleum-based fertilizers and sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Organic livestock cannot be fed antibiotics or growth hormones. The term “organic” is not synonymous with “natural.” The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) defines “natural” as “a product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed (a process which does not fundamentally alter the raw product) may be labeled natural.” Most foods labeled natural are not subject to government controls beyond the regulations and heath codes. Steffen Scheide, organic savory flavorist for an ingredients supplier says, “Minor ingredients, such as natural flavors, often cause some confusion with regard to NOP rules. Only ‘natural flavors,’ as defined in the CFR—not artificial or EU-Nature-Identical Flavors—can be considered in the development of organic foods.”

The NOP food labeling standards include a National List of Allowed Synthetic and Prohibited Substances. This list has a section on allowed non-synthetic substances, some with restrictions (205.605(a)) for products labeled “organic” or “made with organic ingredients.” Four categories of organic labels were approved by the USDA, based on the percentage of organic content: 100% Organic, Organic, Made with Organic Ingredients, and Less than 70% Organic. Natural flavors, then, can be considered NOP compliant as “organic” when used under the 95% rule (flavorings constitute 5% or less of total ingredients and meet that meet the appropriate requirements) if their organic counterparts are not available. “Made with organic ingredients” can be used on any product with at least 70% organically produced ingredients.”

According to the National List, under section 7CFR205.605(a)(9), non-agricultural, non-organic substances are allowed as ingredients that can be labeled as “organic” or “made with organic,” including “flavors, non-synthetic sources only, and must not be produced using synthetic solvents and carrier systems or any artificial preservative.” Other non-synthetic ingredients allowed in this section include: acids such as microbially-produced citric acid, dairy cultures, certain enzymes and non-synthetic yeast that is not grown on petrochemical substrates and sulfite waste liquor.

So, it seems that “natural” might not be so natural and that even some organic foods might contain some of these “natural flavors.” There are still many grey areas for consumers and producers alike. Research is being done and attempts are being made to produce more organic flavorings, but the process is slow. We as consumers need to be more aware of what ingredients go into our foods and also take more initiative to encourage the government’s responsibility to regulate these ingredients and disclose the information to the public.

Article provided by: Phil Lampert