By Ali Schklair, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is a fairly recent addition to the American kitchen. Due to the popularity of the Mediterranean diet and the promotion of “healthy fats,” many consumers are now opting for EVOO as their primary cooking oil. Over the past few decades, olive oil producers worldwide have scrambled to keep up with increasing consumer demand. Unfortunately, the majority of “extra virgin olive oil” available to consumers is not truly EVOO.
Due to the work of the Facts Up Front campaign, today’s food products are marked with labels that advertise their nutrition facts. You have most likely seen them as the small snapshot of information on the front corners of products like cereal and bread. While this is a promising health campaign, consumers should be wary because these labels can often be misleading.
The food marketplace has come a long way in the past century. Before Upton Sinclair wrote “The Jungle,” consumers used to unknowingly eat rats and human body parts in their ground beef. Today, consumers assume they can walk into a grocery store and buy that is both safe and properly labeled. But this assumption is frequently wrong--NCL recently discovered that to be the case with many brands of "extra virgin olive oil."
According to The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “natural” means…very little. The only guidelines FDA provides are that foods labeled as natural should not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. These loose guidelines, which were put into effect in 1993 as an informal policy, are puzzling consumers and food manufactures alike.
You may have heard about the Food and Drug Administration’s recently released proposed revisions to the Nutrition Facts label. The results were resoundingly positive, with only a couple points of contention. Nutrition Facts labels first came about thanks to the passage of a 1990 law requiring them. Since, they have only been significantly updated once, to include trans fat in the list of required nutrients. Needless to say, they were due for an update.
The amount of food wasted in America is disturbingly high. Around 40 percent of the U.S. food supply is thrown away unused every year due, in part, to confusing food date labeling. More than 90 percent of Americans have thrown out food prior to its actual expiration date. Recently, a push has been made to reduce the amount of food that grocery stores are disposing of by repurposing it in cheap prepared meals or donating it to food banks. At home, consumers can reduce food waste by learning the truth about “use by” date labeling.