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NCL asks FDA to crack down on ‘fresh’ and ‘vine ripened’ labeling abuses

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Release Date: December 11, 2009
Contact: (202) 835-3323, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Washington, DC--Today, the National Consumers League (NCL) sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urging renewal of its efforts to prevent consumers from being misled by deceptive labeling of processed fruit and vegetable products.

Nineteen years ago, NCL persuaded the FDA to take a firm stand on prohibiting the use of the term “fresh” on any fruit or vegetable product that is reconstituted or remanufactured from concentrate. At that time, NCL asked that the use of the term “made from concentrate” or “reconstituted” be placed prominently on the front label of these products. FDA issued policy guidance designed to prevent the continued labeling misrepresentation of these products and took action against Ragu “Fresh Italian” Pasta Sauce and Citrus Hill “Fresh Choice” Orange Juice.

Since that time, according to Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of NCL, “the marketplace has become littered once again with false and misleading labels for products, for example, tomato products that are reconstituted from industrial tomato concentrate, pretending to be ‘made from fresh tomatoes,’ ‘packed in season,’ or ‘packed from vine ripened tomatoes’.”

“The FDA guidance is unlawfully being ignored in the marketplace as evidenced by a proliferation of misleading claims by clever marketers,” added Greenberg. “Consumers are paying ‘fresh’ and ‘vine ripened’ prices for ‘from concentrate’ products.” The following are some examples of these misleading claims:

  • Hunt’s Tomato Sauce: “Packed full of premium, vine-ripened tomatoes.” This claim is reinforced with label vignettes of whole, vine-ripened tomatoes. In fact, the Hunt’s product is remanufactured from tomato concentrate. Hunt’s has substituted “vine-ripened” for “fresh” in its label claim to avoid FDA’s guidance.
  • Del Monte Cocktail Sauce: claims “made from California Vine-ripened tomatoes,” with a picture displayed under the claim. It is made from concentrate.
  • “Contadina picks the Freshest Tomatoes” is claimed on labels of Contadina Pizza Sauce, made from tomato concentrate and tap water.

In the letter to FDA, NCL asked that it issue a new guidance to industry setting forth the FDA’s enforcement policy regarding appropriate use of labeling claims that express or imply that a tomato product was packed or made from fresh tomatoes, and to enforce that policy rigorously. NCL also asked that all fruit and vegetable products reconstituted or remanufactured from concentrate be required to disclose this prominently on the label’s front panel. Greenberg stated, “Such a declaration would provide information that consumers need and want to make informed purchase decisions and would close out the clever word play.”

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