TUCSON, Ariz. - In order to avoid food supply chain disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA announced in May that it has temporarily relaxed food labeling guidelines. This will allow certain ingredients to be substituted, but the label stays the same.
“There is real confusion about this temporary policy," says Rachel Rabkin Peachman, Consumer Reports Investigative Reporter. "Right after the announcement, parents, individuals and numerous consumer advocacy groups launched a petition, sent letters and posted comments to the FDA demanding more transparency about food labels.”
The FDA states that none of the ingredients being substituted into a food can be one of the top eight food allergens without disclosing it to consumers. But beyond those eight, the guidance is vaguer.
“For other foods that are known to cause allergies, the FDA says manufacturers “should avoid” using them as substitutes. But saying, “should” leaves it up to the manufacturer to decide what’s safe to substitute. And there are many people with allergies or sensitivities to rare ingredients that manufacturers might not know to consider," says Peachman.
If you or a family member has a food intolerance or allergy and you’re worried about eating something, call the manufacturer and confirm that everything on the label is accurate.
And because the FDA has not set an end date for these temporary rules, CR says consumers should be diligent about following up with manufacturers in the coming months so that it doesn’t become something more permanent. It’s also worth noting that no companies have utilized this temporary policy.