FDA deregulating French dressing

Officials with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday that the agency will no longer define what can be marketed as French dressing.

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In a statement, the FDA said it was revoking its standard of identity of French dressing, a regulation that required the sauce to contain at least 35% vegetable oil, and vinegar, lemon juice or both. In 1977 -- the last time the FDA revised its definition of French dressing -- officials said the sauce could also contain salt, tomato paste, tomato puree, ketchup or sherry wine, although none of those ingredients were required.

Standards of identity set requirements for what food products contain and how they’re produced. The FDA first established a standard of identity for French dressing in 1950. At the time, it was one of three types of dressings identified, along with mayonnaise and “salad dressing.”

In a notice published Thursday in the Federal Register, officials with the FDA said the definition “no longer promotes honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers.”

“Revocation of the standard of identity for French dressing will provide greater flexibility in the product’s manufacture, consistent with comparable, nonstandardized foods available in the marketplace,” officials said.

The decision came decades after the Association for Dressings and Sauces, a group representing salad dressing, mayonnaise and condiment manufacturers, filed a petition seeking to revoke the standard identity of French dressing. In the 1998 petition, ADS argued that the regulation restricted innovation as consumer expectations changed. Other dressings, such as Italian and ranch, are not subject to such standardization.

Diana R. H. Winters, deputy director of the Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, told The Wall Street Journal that the long delay between the filing of the petition and the FDA’s response shows that, at the FDA, “the wheels are turning, but extraordinarily slowly and in a way that is somewhat inexplicable.” She added that the change in definition is unlikely to affect what products appear on market shelves.

“It seems like the industry’s already been pushing at the edges of this standard of identity,” she said, according to the Journal. “You’re not going to see an actual big difference.”

Under the FDA’s previous standard, some manufacturers resorted to labeling their dressings as “imitation” French dressings to get around the regulation, The Washington Post reported, pointing to the Illinois-based Mullen’s brand. On its website, the company noted that its “Imitation French Dressing” was so named because it “contains about half the fat of a regular French dressing.”

“In order to meet state and federal law requirements, we chose to change the name rather than add more oil to the original recipe,” the company said.

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