FDA Declares That Emotions Not Ingredients

Taking a page out of real life, edible companies can learn a lot about what not to do by examining the case of a bakery. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a warning letter to the Nashoba Brook Bakery in Concord, Massachusetts, this past summer. Among a host of food safety violations, one item stood out as unusual. It was the company’s use of the word “love” in the ingredient list on their granola label. 

Placed between oats and sweetener on the label—as a whim, in a display of humor—the bakery thought that they had a long-lasting marketing strategy. They claim that the word “love” has been on the label for close to 20 years. 

Who doesn’t want more love in their life? The ingredient “love,” when mixed into a food item, conjures up images of grandmother’s homemade baked treats. 

But the FDA passed judgement on this ingredient in a warning letter sent to the bakery on September 22, 2017.

“Misbranded Foods:

1. Your Nashoba Granola and Whole Wheat Bread (wholesale and retail) products are misbranded within the meaning of section 403(i)(2) of the Act [21 U.S.C. § 343(i)(2)] because they are fabricated from two or more ingredients, but the labels fail to bear a complete list of all the ingredients by common or usual name in descending order of predominance by weight as well as all sub-ingredients, as required by 21 CFR 101.4. For example,

Your Nashoba Granola label lists ingredient “Love.” Ingredients required to be declared on the label or labeling of food must be listed by their common or usual name [21 CFR 101.4(a)(1). “Love” is not a common or usual name of an ingredient, and is considered to be intervening material because it is not part of the common or usual name of the ingredient.”

Basically, the FDA requires that labeling on food products not be false or misleading, and because the amount of love in a product cannot be measured, it may not be included in the ingredient list. 

Co-owner of Nashoba Brook Bakery John Gates said, “The idea that we have to take the word “love” off of the ingredient list for our granola feels a little silly.”

Gates claims that the ingredient is important to the image and attitude of the company. “We have to bring passion and love to what we do because we’re making fresh bread and granola and pastry every day.”

In extreme circumstances the FDA can take enforcement action, such as holding a shipment of  a mislabelled product. With additional legal action the product never gets to its market until all the violations within a company are fixed.

The most common action the FDA takes is to issue a warning letter listing all the violations and asking the company to fix them. Most companies cooperate with the FDA and comply with the established rules and regulations.

Unfortunately, all FDA warning letters are made available to the public as soon as they are issued and the company’s trust with their customer base can suffer. If the violations are bad enough, customers will leave and never return. 

With Nashoba Brook Bakery, the main quantity of violations dealt with the unsanitary conditions in which the baked goods were made. This included a 1-inch long, crawling bug discovered in one of the bakery’s bread storage rooms. This makes it hard to determine which violation caused the FDA to take a closer look at the company. But once the FDA started digging, they found enough violations to begin action against the bakery. 

Will mislabeling be an FDA issue in the cannabis industry? The FDA tends to see things in black and white. They define items that people ingest as either a drug or a food. Anything a person eats, which is labeled with a claim that it will cure or treat a medical condition is considered a drug. Everything else is a food. 

Even though edibles might help with medical conditions, producers do not want them placed in the drug category, because they are then subject to more rigorous regulations than if categorized as a food product. 

Currently, many cannabis edibles are under scrutiny regarding the amount of THC they contain. If a label is wrong, the consumer will question the product quality. If a product contains less THC than stated on the label consumers feel cheated. More THC in the product than stated on the label may cause an accidental overdose. 

These concerns are causing consumers to call for stronger oversight of cannabis edibles through FDA regulations—not the best solution, from a producer’s viewpoint.

The moral of the Nashoba Brook Bakery story is to correctly label products so the FDA doesn’t have a reason to examine your company through its magnifying glass. The FDA is a government agency that has created pages and pages of food regulations that it expects food producers to follow. Producers who do not play by the FDA game plan will have their products wrapped in red tape by the FDA.