The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided to relax some of its strict rules and allow manufacturer innovation to run wild—if only in the world of French dressing.
The FDA will release a final rule modification in its regulatory area on Thursday Federal RegisterThis will invalidate the 72-year old “standard of identification” which specifies what ingredients must be included in French dressing for it to be legally marketed as such.
Association for Dressings and Sauces requested the change. This trade association, nearly 100 years old, represents this creamier and/or more zesty segment of the food sector. The FDA received comments and evaluated the matter. It concluded that the FDA’s standard for French dressing identity no longer promoted honesty and fair dealing in consumers’ interests. Removing the standard would allow the FDA to provide more flexibility in product manufacturing, in line with similar, non-standardized food products on the market.
Translation: No one is being duped by French dressings that are fraudulent. In fact, the standards restrict creativity and innovation in terms of what can be made with flavor and contents.
French dressing has traditionally contained tomatoes, oil and vinegar as well as other seasonings. In 1950, FDA created a mandatory identity for French dressing. The new announcement notes that only three types of salad dressings were considered acceptable by government. They then had to be identified in order to legally carry these labels. That’s it. This is 2022. Groceries are full. TheoreticallyYou can make wild salad dressing combinations that your grandmothers never dreamed possible. These new dressings don’t have to be identified in the same way.
In its petition, the Association for Dressings and Sauces stated that this is precisely why all of these delicious innovations and fancy choices have occurred. OtherDressings did not have to meet certain standards. FDA agreed with the observation that there was a “proliferation of nonstandard pourable dressings for salads” (including Italian, Ranch cheese, peppercorns, various vinegars and other flavors) as well composition.
The lack of government mandated “identities,” for any of the other dressings, is not causing consumers to despair. French dressing shouldn’t be subject to stricter identity requirements than any other dressings.
All of this is somewhat like a 2020 FDA rule to de-emulate frozen cherry pie content. It might have looked like the FDA allowed frozen cherry pie producers to market poor products with very few cherries to unaware buyers when that rule was first announced. The FDA pointed out that OnlyThis regulation was only applicable to frozen cherry pie, and it did not apply to other frozen fruit pies or other fresh pies. Consumers were not being cheated by frozen raspberry or apple pies with substandard fruit content. Manufacturers have been able to rely on consumers’ power, influence and choice.
French dressing shows a similar market response. In its final rule, the FDA noted that French dressing producers have standardized their products even more narrowly than FDA’s identity requirements to meet consumer demand. According to the FDA, U.S. French dressing enthusiasts want tomato-based sauces with sweet tastes and a reddish-orange color. French dressing companies know that their customers want this so they are offering it. The French dressing’s contents have been standardized by the market, and not FDA.
The FDA regulations prevent French dressing makers from being able to branch out and develop new flavour profiles. According to the Association for Dressings and Sauces’ petition, the dressing has become “marginalized.” Perhaps they have some point. This deregulation is funny preciselyFrench dressing is so culturally significant that it echoes past food eras. Since I was a youngster in 1970s, I’ve never had it. Perhaps manufacturers are trying to add some spice like jalapeno, or other condiments to the salad.
The fact that no one complained about the FDA ever having regulated French dressing is even funnier. According to the FDA, there were more than twenty comments on the proposed rule change. The FDA notes that “some comments seemed to have been submitted as part a university course assignment.” The majority of comments were positive. A few commenters misunderstoodly thought that FDA would ban French dressing altogether. They needed to be assured otherwise.
One comment opposed to the removal of rules due to the belief that some manufacturers may add more fillers to a product in order to reduce its cost. Here’s the frozen cherry pie argument. Others pies weren’t restricted by FDA regulations and weren’t packed with fillers in order to be cheaper. FDA notes that this rule change won’t eliminate labeling requirements. This means that if French dressing suddenly became full of fillers, (and one has to wonder what that would look like for dressings that are primarily tomato, sugar, vinegar and vegetable oil), those fillers must be included in the ingredients.
The world of French dressing will finally have a marketplace for ideas. Perhaps it can be restored as a product. Maybe French dressing enthusiasts will not approve. The market, regardless of what happens to the FDA’s dressing guidelines, is a much better place than FDA offices.
A final point about the FDA’s inability to act on minor matters: In the beginning, the petition for deregulation by the Association for Dressings and Sauces was submitted to FDA in January 1998.