What’s in a Name? Everything, for “Standard” FDA Food Labeling


Particular words mean everything to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  It takes great pains and uses specific words to proclaim its position, and clarify what it names something, especially when it comes to setting a standard.  Most of us who have dealt with or follow FDA activities are well aware of FDA rules, such as those set forth in 21 CFR. What many do not know or realize is that the FDA has set standards for what is in, and what is not in, a commonly named food, such as mayonnaise, or tomato paste. These standards are a part of 21 CFR regulations.  Each of these foods, as well as many others, are set forth in 21 CFR Chapter 1, Sub-Chapter B, “Food For Human Consumption”. In these various sections the FDA states unequivocally what is in the food called “mayo” or “tomato paste”, and, often by omission, what is not in these foods.

May-o?  No, You are Not, by FDA Standard

As stated above, precision is essential to provide makers and sellers of food items and flavoring with clarity as to what their products are.  When a store or website advertises a human consumable food using “common names” like “Mayo”, “Mayonnaise”, or “Tomato Paste”, but has left out specific ingredients, or has added in specific ingredients that are not included in the regulations, the food item may have gone beyond the FDA definition and become a different food that may not use these identifying names.

In a recent warning letter, the FDA takes an internet food seller to task for such a violation. Found here, the FDA specifically targeted the company for marketing a food item as “mayo”, despite the fact that the product does not contain eggs. Makes it healthier, right? In addition to removing the egg component, the seller also has added a specific starch product to help with consistency of the food item. But, this is a component that is not typically in mayo.  For these and other reasons, the FDA tells the seller that it is misleading the public in its advertising, finding its labeling to be non-compliant with FDA food labeling regulations – in short, saying that mayo has eggs, and this product does not.

Another Path down into FDA Enforcement

In a too-familiar occurrence, when a seller violates one aspect of FDA food labeling regulations, the added event of labeling violations follows close behind. The standard phrasing of such violations called out in the FDA letter states: “This letter is not an all-inclusive statement of violations associated with your products or their labeling ….  It is your responsibility to ensure that all products marketed by your firm comply with the Act and its implementing regulations.  We advise you to review your website, product labels, and other labeling for your products to ensure that the claims you make for your products do not reflect intended uses that cause the distribution of the products to violate the Act.”  Now the seller must update the site, within 15 days, removing all references to “mayonnaise”.

FDA Compliance – Seller Must Know, and Follow, the Rules

It is essential that a person selling food items understand and comply with FDA food labeling regulations. FDA food labeling regulations are non-negotiable marketing requirements a seller must meet to avoid FDA warnings.

For more information about hiring a FDA regulatory lawyer to help you make a knowledgeable decision on these and other applicable FDA regulations, please contact us at contact@sglawfl.com.FDA Lawyer