It will be at least another 3 years before information on proper handling and cooking is mandatory for tenderized beef products. The delayed is due to government agencies, including the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the White House Office of Management and Budget, not being able to come to an agreement before December 31st, 2014.
These new food labeling guidelines will address a growing concern over dangerous foodborne illness causing food pathogens that are produced in the processing and then pushed down into the meat as it is softened. And unless the meat is cooked thoroughly these pathogens could sicken the consumer.
According to the national Centers for Disease Control, mechanically tenderized beef caused at least five E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks between 2003 and 2009, causing 174 illnesses.
To better understand how the tenderizing process can push pathogens into the center of the meat, check out this video from Consumer Reports:
Failure to pass this new food labeling regulation this year has some consumer groups and even members of Congress frustrated.
In an interview with Food Safety News, Christopher Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America stated, “It’s extremely disappointing because consumers are going to be at risk from this product for much longer than they need to be. The delay was totally unnecessary.”
Even though Waldrop and other consumer advocacy groups will push President Obama to still implement these new labeling laws by 2016, it seems unlikely as the 2014 deadline has passed. Because labeling laws are implemented every 2 years, the earliest it will probably be effective is 2018.
Retailers have the option to voluntarily label their mechanically tenderized meat products. Costco has started labeling their blade tenderized meat, instructing consumers to cook to a core temperature of 160 degrees.
The end of 2014 brought a final ruling from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) on new labeling requirements for meat and poultry that have added solutions, such as salt and water.
The new labeling regulations will require disclosing the percentage of added solution and the ingredients in the solution to be listed in descending order of predominance by weight. The rule will go into effect January 1, 2016.
FSIS originally announced these proposed requirements back in July 2011, after many petitions from the public and consumer groups. The concerns were not only about misleading consumers on the actual weight of the meat or poultry verses the added solution, but also health risks.
The added salty solutions has been reported as much as “180 mg of sodium per serving…four times the amount of sodium in truly natural single-ingredient chicken that has not been pumped full of saltwater,” as reported by the Truthful Labeling Coalition in 2010.
It is well known that high levels of sodium is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, and a higher risk of strokes. The new labeling will give consumers a better understanding of what they will be purchasing so that they can make more informed, healthier decisions.
Here at RL Food Testing Laboratory, we often get questions from our customers about organic food labels. In a recent blog article New Guidelines for Organic Food Labels, we review the new rules set forth by the National Organic Program (NOP). Below are some general questions about organic food labeling that you may find helpful to understand what is organic, when can you use the organic seal, and how do you get your product certified organic.
What is organic?
Organic refers not only to the food itself, but also how it is handled and produced. Organic food production is based on a system of farming that copycats a natural ecosystem and maintains and refills the fertility and nutrients of the soil. These methods mix cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and preserve biodiversity. Organic foods are produced without genetically modified organism (GMO) and radiation.
What is an organic seal?
The USDA Organic Seal is a seal, or label, that is affixed to certified USDA organic products. Two levels of certified products are allowed to have the USDA Organic Seal:
100% USDA certified organic products that are made with 100% organic ingredients
Organic products that are made with at least 95% organic ingredients
What are the requirements for a 100% organic label?
In order for a product to be labeled as 100% organic the following requirements must be met:
The product contains 100% USDA certified organic ingredients
Zero non-organic ingredients are allowed in the product
Any processing aids used must be organic
A 100% organic certified product is allowed to have the USDA Organic Seal
What are the requirements for an organic label?
In order for a product to be labeled organic, the product must have the following characteristic:
The product must contain at least 95% organic ingredients
Remaining 5% of the ingredients can be non-organic
All agricultural ingredients in the product must be organic unless not available
An "Organic" product is allowed to wear the USDA Organic Seal (Organic Apple Juice)
What are the requirements for products that are labeled "Made with Organic Ingredients?
Products that are processed and contain at least 70% organic ingredients can use the phrase "made with organic ingredients". The manufacturer will have to list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the main display panel. Furthermore, foods that contain at least 70% organic ingredients will not be able to place the USDA seal on their product.
Is an Organic Label mandatory on an organic product?
Labeling is optional. But, labeling is encouraged because these labels help consumers to identify products quickly. It will help consumers understand the type of organic product they are purchasing.
Once the USDA labels a product as "organic" will the item still be subject to the laws and regulations that are enforced by the FDA? Yes, foods that are labeled as organic must follow with both the USDA guidelines for the organic claim as well as with the FDA regulations for labeling.
If a product claims organic, does it also need to be certified?
Yes, any final product claiming organic ingredients needs to be certified.
Where can I get my product certified as organic?
The National Organic Program oversees USDA endorsed certifying agents and their organic production and handling operations. Producers can view a current list which shows all certified, cancelled and suspended operations as they have been reported to the NOP on January 2, 2014. Only the specialized operations can label, sell or represent their product as organic.
Can I download the USDA Organic Seal?
Yes, the seal for 100% organic certified products can be downloaded here. The user has the option of four color seals or black and white seals.
On May 2, 2014, the National Organic Program (NOP) issued new guidelines for organic food labels. These new guidelines were the result of the organic trade and certifiers request for the NOP to clarify the requirements for “Made with Organic” labeling category.
The new guidelines for organic food labeling clarifies the following five aspects of products that are labeled “Made with Organic:” 1. Composition 2. Compliant organic labeling claims 3. Organic and non-organic forms of the same ingredient 4. Percentage of organic ingredients statements 5. Ingredients or food groups in the “made with organic” claim
In order to label the product “made with organic” it must contain at least 70% organic ingredients, excluding salt and water. It cannot contain any ingredients that were made using excluded methods such as ionizing radiation, genetic engineering or sewage sludge.
The USDA defines excluded methods as various "Methods used to genetically modify organisms or influence their growth and development by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes”. If these conditions are met then the product can be labeled “made with organic.”
Compliant organic labeling claims
If it meets the above percentage requirements then the label can say “made with organic.” Up to three ingredients, combination of ingredients or food groups may be inserted after. You cannot say “85% organic”. It must be an ingredient specific claim such as “made with organic sugar”. Also specific ingredients cannot have a percent organic statement like “100% organic flour”.
All labeling “made with organic” cannot stand out among the rest of the labeling. It must be the same format as the rest of the label. No highlighting and the text must not be more than half the size of the largest text.
Organic and non-organic forms of the same ingredient
A product that is made with both organic and non-organic forms of an ingredient must be labeled as such. If the ingredient label statement is “made with organic sugar and corn” then both ingredients must be organic. You could also say “made with organic sugar and organic corn.”
Ingredients or food groups in the “made with organic” claim
The “made with organic” label may include a combined total of three ingredients, food groups or a combination of both.
If a statement is made in regards to an ingredient on the label “Made with organic apples” then all forms of an apple must be organic. Anything derived from apples must be organic as well such as apple juice.
If a product is stating “Made with organic milk” then all milk-based products, such as yogurt, cheese, or whey powder must be certified organic.
Only certain items can be listed as food groups – beans, fish, fruits, grains, herbs, meats, nuts, oils, poultry, seeds, spices, sweeteners, vegetables or processed milk products.
The final guidance documents are available from the COP through the Program Handbook: Guidance and Instructions for Accredited Certifying Agents and Certified Operations.
Helpful examples of these new guidelines for organic food labels can be viewed here.
According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention, salmonella bacteria, is estimated to cause about 1.2 million illnesses in the United States each year and about 23,000 hospitalizations. The inspection system has been the same for half the century (since 1957) and by the increasing numbers of foodborne illnesses a change is needed.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is requesting food nutrition information available to schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program (“SMPs”). According to the Federal Register dated 8/19/2011, “FNS is interested in examining what nutrition information and ingredient lists are made available to schools, the manner and scope of the information’s accessibility, and how that information and accessibility compare with the information schools may be seeking” in hopes to better understand how schools are currently deciding how to plan their menus and buy their foods.
Today the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a proposal to amend the regulation for raw meat and poultry products with added solutions, which are sometimes referred to as ‘enhanced products.’ As stated in the Federal Register, the proposal asks to include “an accurate description of the component, the percentage of added solution incorporated into the raw meat or poultry product, and the individual ingredients or multi-ingredient components in the solution listed in the descending order of predominance by weight.” They are also recommending font and color specifications for printing on the labels regarding this added solution.