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FDA nixes identity standard for French dressing

French dressing 2022.jpg

FDA earlier this month revoked the standard of identity for French dressing in a move aimed to foster more flexibility and innovation.

Standards of identity, which establish requirements relating to the content and production of certain food products, are common across a range of foods, such as bread, certain cheeses and particular types of chocolate, FDA noted in a Jan. 12 constituent update.

“The standard of identity for French dressing characterized it as containing oil, acidifying and seasoning ingredients, and allowed additional safe and suitable ingredients,” according to the constituent update. “However, based on information submitted to the FDA, consumers appear to expect French dressing to have certain characteristics not required by the standard, such as containing tomatoes or tomato-derived ingredients.”

FDA proposed in December 2020 to revoke the standard of identity for French dressing, drawing 20 comments largely supportive of its proposal. The final rule, published recently in the Federal Register, takes effect Feb. 14.

The Association for Dressings and Sauces (ADS), which was founded in 1926 and represents manufacturers of salad dressing, supported FDA’s decision. That’s no surprise considering the group filed a citizen petition with FDA in 1998, which requested, in part, that FDA repeal the dressing standard.

“Since the standard was adopted, there has been a proliferation of a wide variety of non-standardized pourable salad dressings with different flavors (e.g., Italian, Blue cheese, Vinaigrette, Ranch, Caesar) and composition (including reduced fat, 'light' and fat-free dressings),” ADS told Food & Beverage Insider in an email.

The association made the latter observation in its citizen petition more than two decades ago.

“The French dressing standard does not serve as a benchmark for these pourable salad dressings, due to the variation in composition to meet changing consumer needs,” ADS added in the email. “As a result, the French dressing standard simply restricts innovation.”

A spokesman for ConAgra Brands, whose brands include Wish-Bone dressings, said the company is “aware of the rule change and it will be taken into consideration if we ever consider changing the ingredients in our French dressing.”

FDA first established a standard of identity for French dressing in 1950, then amended the standard in the ’60s and ’70s to permit the use of certain ingredients in French dressing.

In its final rule, FDA acknowledged a “growing variety of dressings for salads on the market that are formulated to meet consumers' preferences and needs.” Without a standard of identity, FDA said, manufacturers will have the freedom to use different ingredients to make French dressing products that meet consumers’ expectations.

“Standards of identity are intended to protect consumers against economic adulteration, maintain the integrity of food and reflect consumers' expectations about the food,” FDA explained. “This rulemaking is part of our comprehensive effort to modernize food standards to reduce regulatory burden and remove barriers to innovation.”

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