In case you are wondering, "D" is my husband -- Dave Liu! As you've probably noticed, I don't update this blog often but I may post more as I've linked this to my Google+ account.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Misleading Food Labels

I read food labels carefully, and thus appreciated this Wall Street Journal article (subscription may be required) about how food labels legally mislead consumers. Here are some common tricks:

  • Misleading serving sizes. Savvy consumers read food labels to determine the nutritional content for each serving. Even smarter consumers go a step further to read the fine print that indicates how many servings there are in the package. As the Journal states, "In the real world, a bag of chips or a bottle of soda is one serving. But on the food label, it can be listed as two or three servings. The result is that calorie information on the label often understates how much you're really about to consume."
  • Inconsistent labeling. Serving sizes may differ across products. Here's an example used by the WSJ, "A serving of regular Chips Ahoy! cookies has 160 calories while a serving of Peanut Butter Chips Ahoy! has just 80 calories. But look closely. There are three cookies in a serving of regular Chips Ahoy!, but just one cookie in a serving of the peanut butter variety."
  • Mystifying ingredient claims. I spend a lot of time choosing which brand of cranberry juice to buy, because some are made with 100% juice, while others are merely cocktails primarily made with flavorings and sugar. This example uncovered by the Journal made me angry because there's no way a consumer would have figured this out just by reading the information provided, "Smucker's makes a brand of spread called Simply 100% Fruit. But the strawberry version contains just 30% strawberries (the rest is fruit syrup and juices). You wouldn't know that by reading the label, because the FDA doesn't require packages to list the percentage of ingredients. The CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) discovered the fruit content from a jar of spread purchased in Thailand, where labels list the percent of key ingredients."
  • Inaccurate weights. "One study found these packages [single-serving baked goods] can contain 25% or more of the product, and thus more fat and calories, than promised on the label. "

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