Clean & Clear: Clean Labels

Clean & Clear: Clean Labels

Clean Label is now a mainstream consumer movement. For consumers, the key words are ‘real’, transparency and authenticity.

For some, Clean Label products should contain natural, familiar, simple ingredients that are easy to recognize, understand and pronounce  No artificial ingredients or synthetic chemicals.

Clean Label seems deceptively simple but begins to unravel when science digs deeper. The term has no legal or commonly-accepted definition. Clean Label’s a catch-all for “all natural”, “minimally processed,” “sustainable” and “free of genetically engineered materials” – a panoply of claims without scientific evidence.

Food manufacturers are facing significant challenges because consumers do not understand the difference between food-grade and industrial-grade ingredients.  Time-tested ingredients like methylcellulose and brominated vegetable oil are being feared because they’re also used in industrial paints and as flame retardants, respectively.

In reality, these ingredients have functional properties important for quality, and offer unique health benefits for those avoiding egg, meat, gluten and fat. They’re derived from naturally occurring renewable source with a long history of safe use, have approved health claims, and are perfectly safe and nutritious in food and over-the-counter pharmaceutical applications.

Artificial colors are now considered unsafe, despite extensive evaluation and re-evaluation by the FDA confirming safety when used as permitted. Substituting with natural pigments has several limitations, including the possibility of allergies because they have not been tested as extensively.

Simple and clean-sounding names may be evocative of health and well-being but are not necessarily safer.  Celery powder, used to replace nitrates in meat products, contains a significant amount of naturally-occurring nitrate which does not have to be disclosed on the product label. This may be “clean” labeling but certainly not “clear” labeling and potentially harmful to those allergic to nitrates.

Reformulation is a complicated solution and education can help. Consumers will accept preservatives if they are clearly taught the reason(s) preservatives are needed, which products they’re used in, levels used, why they are not a risk to human health, and most importantly, the dire consequences of not using them.

Honesty is always the best policy. Cleanliness may be next to Godliness, but transparency conveys notions of quality and integrity and increases trust in the food company.  Education, clearly, fosters trust and loyalty.

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