IFAC Statement on Brexit

On June 23, 2016 the United Kingdom (UK) voted to leave the European Union (EU), a decision commonly referred to as “Brexit.” The UK was set to leave the EU on March 29, 2019; however, the withdrawal agreement received a series of rejections by the UK Parliament and Brexit has been delayed. The debate has been over whether to implement a “soft” Brexit, representing a close trading relationship and regulatory and legal alignment between the UK and the EU, or a “hard” Brexit, which would include no agreement over the future trade relationship and allow the UK to create independent trade deals with other countries.

The food industry is global, and most food and beverage companies import and export products to and from the EU. The same is true for food additive and food ingredient companies. While the general consensus within the food industry is that the UK will have to follow EU regulations regarding food additives, there is concern that the UK will not be able to inform the regulations the same way they did pre-Brexit. The UK would have the option to develop its own new regulations, which would help support the UK government’s autonomy; however, this could produce additional barriers for innovation and market entry. In the case of food additive manufacturers wanting to produce new additives or develop new uses for existing additives, they would likely need to apply for authorization both in the EU and the UK.

The International Food Additives Council (IFAC) is closely monitoring Brexit developments, the outcome of which may have widespread impacts on its member companies that operate and/or conduct trade in the UK and the EU. As a global association representing manufacturers and end-users of food additives, IFAC is particularly concerned about the potential implications of the various scenarios (e.g., deal, no deal, delayed exit) on the food industry. IFAC encourages that all parties align on the clear need for – and shared benefits of – limited trade disruptions between the EU and UK, and rules that support the continued growth and success of their respective markets. In addition, as IFAC strongly supports global harmonization of food additive standards and specifications to help cultivate a more responsible food environment and promote global trade, IFAC is hopeful that food regulations in the UK will not deviate far from the EU.

Below are several resources for companies concerned about Brexit’s impact on the food and beverage industry:

  • The UK government has developed an online tool for preparing your business or organization for the UK leaving the EU.
  • The European Commission has also issued a list of guidance notes and links which address issues of concern to the food industry, including trade, health and food safety, chemicals regulations, competition, and trademarks.
  • For advice from the UK government on food label changes in a no deal Brexit, click here.
  • The EU has published Guidance on labeling requirements titled “Notice to Stakeholders – Withdrawal of the United Kingdome and EU Food Law and EU Rules on Quality Schemes”
  • For information on trading and labeling organic food in a no deal Brexit, click here.
  • For rules around Bioengineered (BE) organisms (or “GMOs”) in a no deal Brexit, click here.
  • The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) of the UK has published guidance for data protection if there is no Brexit deal. The ICO has also provided a checklist highlighting six steps to take to prepare for data protection compliance if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

Dietary Exposures to Common Emulsifiers and Their Impact on the Gut Microbiota: Is There a Cause for Concern?

Scientific Review Supports Safety of Emulsifiers in Relation to the Human Microbiome

In 2007, the National Institutes of Health’s Human Microbiome Project dramatically increased interest in the human gut microbiota, also called the microbiome. Consumers, health professionals and scientists want to know more about the relationship between the microbiome and our health, including how foods and beverages may have an influence on the function and makeup of the microbiome. A review, “Dietary Exposures to Common Emulsifiers and Their Impact on the Gut Microbiota: Is There a Cause for Concern?,”1 published in the journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, provided an update on the science related to how select food ingredients known as emulsifiers, affect the microbiome. The study’s authors found that this category of food ingredients does not pose any negative effect on the microbiome. 

What is the microbiome?

The microbiome is the collection of trillions of microorganisms, mainly found in the gastrointestinal tract. Developedat birth, the microbiome rapidly develops over the first three years and continues to change and adapt throughout our lives, changing in response to various factors including diet. While over 1000 species of microorganismshave been identified in the microbiome, there are about 160 within the gut of any one individual. The microbiome plays a key role in human digestion and metabolism by contributing enzymes not produced by the body to help break down polysaccharides and polyphenols, and synthesize vitamins. 

Diet and the Microbiome

Research shows that the gut microbiome changes in response to diet, both in the short- and long-term.  But what do these changes mean? Overall, studies indicate that the composition and function of the microbiome is modified by diet. However, everyone responds differently to various dietary components and that includes our microbiomes. Therefore, in order to properly assess the effects of individual ingredients or components of a diet on the microbiome, it is critical that the diets of subjects participating in such studies are carefully controlled, and subjects’ usual, or baseline, diets are well documented and understood.  

What are emulsifiers?

Given the recent questions around diet and the microbiome, specifically around emulsifiers, Vo et al.1conducted a literature search to review the existing scientific evidence on how emulsifiers impact the microbiome.  The ingredients in this review include:

  • Carboxymethyl cellulose
  • Polysorbate 80
  • Gum Arabic
  • Carrageenan
  • Arabinogalactan

These emulsifiers are often used in foods for the purposes of achieving preferred flavors or to improve texture, stability and shelf life. Without emulsifiers, packaged foods such as salad dressings, chocolate bars and ice cream would not exist. The ubiquity of these ingredients in the food supply has drawn increased questioning related to health-outcomes that are often associated with dietary patterns, including type 1 and type 2 diabetes, metabolic disease and irritable bowel disease (IBD). Changes in the microbiome, regarding structure and function have been observed in populations with metabolic syndrome, which includes disease states such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. 

So what does the science tell us?

In short, there is limited evidence indicating adverse effects of emulsifiers on the microbiome. This is due to a number of issues including: 

  • There are inconsistencies in the methodologies used to analyze the microbiome between studies. The differing techniques used from study to study affect the bacteria that are identified and at what abundance.  Thus, there are inconsistent findings and interpretations that follow. 
  • Anatomical and physiological differences in the gastrointestinal tract of rodents and humans makes it difficult to extrapolate findings in rodents to humans. 
  • Test diets provided to laboratory animals can be controlled in animal studies while the human diet cannot be adequately controlled.
  • There is no alignment on what type of changes in the microbiome qualify as being adverse. 

The researchers of this review suggest that an established and agreed upon range of different microorganisms within the microbiome would help to provide a reference for future studies in the interpretation and clinical relevance of changes observed in response to various dietary components and ingredients.  Given this, the researchers state that they have found that consumption of foods with emulsifiers do not pose any safety concerns and that their history of safe use is not brought into question by the existing scientific literature. 

International Food Additives Council Releases New Guide for Industry Compliance with FDA Food Safety Modernization Act

The International Food Additives Council (IFAC) is pleased to release the anticipated revision of the IFAC Quality Systems, Food Safety and Good Manufacturing Practices Guide for Food Additives and GRAS Substances. The IFAC “GMP Guide” represents voluntary guidance, developed by IFAC members, and is intended to help suppliers and users of food additives and GRAS substances comply with the U.S. FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), specifically Title 21, Part 117 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

The original IFAC GMP Guide was developed to address FSMA, which was enacted in 2011 under the Obama Administration and shifted the focus of food safety practices in the United States from reacting to food safety incidents after they occurred to proactively preventing them from happening. FSMA applies to all foods sold in the U.S., including processed and ready-to-eat foods, produce, food additives and GRAS substances, and animal food/feed. While FSMA signaled a paradigm shift in food safety management practices, its requirements for appropriate Quality Systems, Preventive Controls and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) remain consistent with Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) requirements followed by industry that existed prior to FSMA under 21 CFR Part 110.  As a result of FSMA, FDA updated 21 CFR Part 110 and promulgated 21 CFR Part 117. To incorporate these new and updated regulations, IFAC revised its GMP Guide to incorporate both FSMA and 21 CFR Part 117 CGMP principles.

Recognizing that not all food manufacturing processes and facilities are alike or possess the same risk profiles, IFAC developed the GMP Guide to assist its industry partners in understanding and applying the Quality Systems, food safety principles, GMPs, and Quality Assurance Principles in accordance with FSMA, as well as preceding CGMP requirements. IFAC believes that this Guide fills a critical gap, providing a resource focused on the manufacture and use of food additives while taking into consideration the types of processes and facilities that are often very different than those used in the production of finished foods. The comprehensive 44-page guide, complete with a glossary of definitions explained by industry, has been aligned with 21 CFR Part 117, and thereby presents a mechanism for companies to apply current federal food safety requirements. The Guide translates these requirements to address areas that may be unique to food additives, and is meant to be easily applied and customized based on the manufacturing facility’s distinct attributes.

In addition, IFAC has updated its GMP Audit Guide, which reflects the IFAC GMP Guide and related FSMA principles. The Audit Guide may be used alone or in tandem with the GMP Guide to help firms prepare for FSMA inspections and facility audits. For companies seeking to gain additional safety certifications, the Audit Guide may also be used as an appropriate alternative to third party food safety standards which are often difficult to apply to food additive processes and facilities.

IFAC does not assert its Guides to be Federal Guidance Documents, nor does it claim that they bear legal or enforcement authority. Rather, the Guides represent what IFAC members* believe are best practices to comply with federal law and maximize safety. Therefore, in some cases IFAC provides recommendations which go beyond what is legally required by FSMA. IFAC’s recommendations are indicated by use of the word “should” throughout the Guide, whereas practices or activities required by U.S. law are indicated by “shall” or “must”. IFAC worked with its member companies and other industry stakeholders, representing a diverse range of expertise in the manufacture of food additives and GRAS substances, to ensure the Guide does not include false or misleading statements. The Guide can be found here [link to partial-access Guide].  

As a regulatory agency, FDA is responsible for regulating and enforcing the highest level of safety within the food supply. However, it is up to industry to comply with government requirements and meet consumer expectations for the highest level of safety and quality of the foods, beverages, and ingredients used and consumed every day. IFAC is proud to provide its GMP and Audit Guides and help industry fulfill its commitment to consumer expectations, thus reinforcing America’s trust in the food supply and assisting the broader food industry in consistently executing best practices.

*IFAC is a global association representing manufacturers of food ingredients, including food additives and GRAS substances. IFAC members include experienced personnel from food safety and quality teams of small, medium, and large companies that produce and use ingredients in foods, beverages, and dietary supplements.  Drawing on the expertise of its membership, IFAC strives for global harmonization of food ingredient standards and specifications.

IFAC Statement on U.S. Interagency Strategy to Reduce Food Waste

On April 9, 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a new interagency strategy for reducing food waste, titled the Winning on Reducing Food Waste FY 2019-2020 Federal Interagency Strategy. This modernized approach to addressing food waste prioritizes six key action areas, from improving consumer education and food labeling, to the agencies working both collaboratively and independently to help reduce food loss and waste in the United States. The new interagency strategy comes after the three federal agencies signed a formal agreement in 2018, titled the Winning on Reducing Food Waste Initiative. One year later, the April 2019 announcement signifies a key step towards the U.S. government’s overall goal of reducing food waste and loss by 50 percent by 2030. The International Food Additives Council (IFAC) endorses the U.S. government’s interagency approach to reducing food waste and is committed to contributing in this endeavor.

The United States discards 30-40 percent of all available food and food comprises the largest type of waste in daily American trash. According to the EPA’s sustainable management guide, 2015 saw more than 39 million tons of food waste created and estimates food waste comprised 22 percent of all discarded municipal solid waste that same year. These numbers reflect the pressing need for streamlined regulations, simpler solutions and consistent communications to reduce food waste, enhance consumer understanding of food labels and food safety, and empower all stakeholders to take an active role in addressing this problem. 

IFAC acknowledges that the responsibility to minimize food waste does not rest solely with the one group – be it the food industry, regulators, policy makers or consumers. We all eat, and it is critical that we all work together as global citizens to reduce food waste and ensure an adequate food supply for the predicted worldwide population of 10 billion people in 2050. Therefore, IFAC is especially supportive of the Federal Interagency Strategy’s fifth priority area: “Collaborate with Private Industry to Reduce Food Loss and Waste Across the Supply Chain.” While the U.S. strategy is domestic in nature, the issue of food waste is not, and IFAC looks forward to leveraging its international membership and global reach to support this key initiative. In addition, as IFAC members range from producers to end-users of food ingredients, IFAC supports food waste reduction efforts at all levels of the supply chain.

There are many ways the food industry can help prevent food waste. In addition to implementing changes to product packaging and labeling, companies can also consider product formulations and how individual ingredients may be used to protect products from spoiling. Many food additives not only help enhance the visual and textural appeal of products, but may also help extend the shelf life of foods and beverages ranging from fresh produce to more finished products such as soups and salad dressings. Safely preserving food and extending shelf life is a critical factor in reducing the likelihood that foods will be discarded.

IFAC strongly supports The Winning on Reducing Food Waste FY 2019-2020 Federal Interagency Strategy and looks forward to engaging with industry, government and consumers to help solve the total issue of food waste.

IFAC Statement Regarding the Study “High-Phosphate Diet Induces Exercise Intolerance and Impairs Fatty Acid Metabolism in Mice”

In January 2019, an article titled High-Phosphate Diet Induces Exercise Intolerance and Impairs Fatty Acid Metabolism in Mice” was published in the journal Circulation. The authors suggest dietary phosphorus is over consumed and found a link between higher phosphate consumption to exercise intolerance and less time spent exercising on a treadmill using mice models. As these findings were based on observational studies in mice and the researchers’ opinion of what “excess” means, they should be interpreted cautiously. Studies linking mice models to human health outcomes have many limitations, and multiple factors contribute to a person’s desire and ability to exercise, many of which should not be attributed to a slightly higher phosphate intake and the duration spent exercising.

The study was conducted to determine the association between inorganic phosphate, a food additive, with physical activity in humans. The authors suggest phosphate is “used in excess” as a preservative and flavor enhancer in foods, citing between 40 and 70 percent of common selling grocery items as containing phosphate additives. The researchers go on to report up to 25 percent of American adults have three or four times higher intakes of the recommended daily allowance of phosphorus.

In order to determine the “direct effects” of dietary phosphate on exercise capacity and other biochemical markers, a treadmill exercise test was conducted on mice fed either a normal phosphate diet (n=15-18; 0.6% of diet) or a high phosphate diet (n=4-7; 2.0% of diet) for 12 weeks. The researchers found that a high phosphate diet appeared to decrease time spent on a treadmill as compared to the normal phosphate diet. However, there was no effect on body weight and there were no significant differences in the biochemical markers of mice fed either diet. The researchers also studied phosphate levels in human blood/serum, and found higher phosphate levels appeared to “decrease physical activity independently of renal [kidney] function and body mass index.” As it relates to oxidation in skeletal muscle during exercise, the researchers made a determination on muscle strength in the human study after only one single bout of muscle contraction; daily physical activity ability was not determined. The researchers conclude the high phosphate diet in mice induces disruption in skeletal muscle metabolism and the study results may have a broader public health implication to the general population.

IFAC has numerous concerns with this study. First, it should be noted that many authoritative scientific and regulatory bodies have not provided tolerable upper intake levels for dietary phosphorus due to inadequate scientific evidence. The outcome of a 2017 research review indicated “available data were not sufficient to establish a Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for phosphorus.” Therefore, in this study, the authors’ perception of “excess” intake should not be used to draw conclusions about excessive intake. IFAC believes another fault in the study includes a small sample size of mice which was only 4-7 mice in the high phosphate diet group and 15-18 mice in the normal phosphate diet group. The researchers attempt to correlate a higher phosphorus diet in only 4-7 mice with decreased time spent doing physical activity is not supported by strong evidence and, in this case, might simply be a matter of desire or interest of the mice participants. Regarding physical activity in humans, IFAC and the researchers can agree with findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 80% of American adults do not meet the recommended “physical activity guidelines for aerobic and muscle strengthening.” However, IFAC believes multiple factors contribute to muscle strength, endurance, and overall exercise ability and no single dietary mineral can be attributed to physical stamina—especially if most people are not normally physically active and in the study “daily physical activity ability was not determined.”

IFAC Statement on UN State of Food Security and Nutrition Report

In September 2018, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released its second annual State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report. The report serves to monitor progress made towards achieving a world without hunger and malnutrition, within the context of the United Nation’s (UN) Sustainability Development Goals.

The International Food Additives Council (IFAC) endorses the multisectoral approach suggested by FAO, which states that, “Actions need to be accelerated and scaled up to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity of food systems, people’s livelihoods, and nutrition…” IFAC acknowledges that the food industry alone cannot deliver solutions that address the main drivers of hunger and malnutrition; however, there is a critically important role industry can play to help alleviate this global crisis.

In 2017, a staggering 821 million people were reported to be suffering from hunger. This corresponds to nearly 11 percent of the world’s population. Discouragingly, between 2014 and 2017, rather than seeing a decrease in the total number of people suffering from hunger, the numbers increased by 37.3 million people. While most hungry people live in lower-to-middle-income countries, hunger and lack of reliable access to healthy, safe, and affordable food are complex global problems. The UN report stresses that climate change and political conflicts are the key drivers behind the 2014 reversal in the progress made during the second half of the twentieth century towards reducing hunger and malnutrition.

A lack of access to adequate food and nutrition is caused by an array of factors, some of which can be addressed through food industry efforts. As an association representing companies who produce and use food ingredients, one of IFAC’s main objectives is to unite and cultivate a responsible and sustainable global food environment. IFAC members utilize both traditional and innovative technologies, as well as modern food science, to help support sustainable food strategies and minimize food waste.

For example, one IFAC member has developed a plant-derived invisible, edible coating that slows the rate by which fresh produce typically degrades, thereby increasing the shelf life and protecting the quality of fresh fruits and vegetables. This product has shown tremendous potential to provide populations in isolated geographies and developing countries with access to fresh produce without reliance on cost-prohibitive or infrastructure-intensive food preservation technologies such as refrigeration. Another IFAC member utilizes microbial food cultures found commonly in cheese and other foods for “bioprotection,” in which the cultures are used to keep products such as yogurt fresh longer. Using microbial cultures in this way not only helps prevent waste, but also helps protect and increase yields in the agricultural sector. Furthermore, several other members produce stabilizing ingredients that help formulate foods that are shelf-stable under ambient conditions and extend the shelf-life of products traditionally in need of refrigeration. This not only helps ensure nutritious products can be transported to remote areas more easily, but also enables equity in the food system by providing equal access to the same health benefits afforded by nutritious yet perishable products.

The FAO report determines that, “The signs of increasing food insecurity and high levels of different forms of malnutrition are a clear warning of the urgent need for considerable additional work to ensure we ‘leave no one behind’ on the road towards achieving the SDG goals on food security and nutrition.” IFAC supports FAO’s efforts to monitor and communicate progress towards eradicating world hunger and stands by its member companies whose products are contributing to this goal.


IFAC Statement on Nanotechnology

The International Food Additives Council (IFAC) is a global association representing manufacturers and users of food ingredients. IFAC is committed to ensuring the safety of its members’ products as well as communicating technical information about ingredients in foods.

A term that is sometimes linked to food is nanotechnology, and is often accompanied by words such as “nanoparticles” or just “nano”. Nanotechnology refers to the study and control of matter at an incredibly small scale, generally between 1 and 100 nanometers, and is not well understood by consumers. Although particle size is not commonly considered in the context of food, many foods, beverages and even water are naturally comprised of nanoscale particles. For example, milk is an emulsion of nanoscale fat droplets. While nanoscale particles have always been present in foods and beverages, food scientists have developed technologies to engineer nanomaterials in order to support improvements in the food and beverage industry. Nanotechnology has allowed for advancements such as more protective food packaging materials and increased availability of beneficial nutrients in foods.

As with any new technology, questions have been raised about the need to assess the potential impact of nanoparticles on health, safety and the environment. Global scientific and regulatory agencies are therefore reviewing information and data on nanotechnology and several guidance documents have already been published by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

IFAC strongly believes that the safety of food ingredients depends on the specific substance in question, and should not be determined based solely on its particle size. In addition, industry’s innovative use of nanotechnology should not impact the credibility of safety assessments for ingredients already on the market, which have a significant history of safe use. To ensure transparency and prevent confusion among consumers and other audiences, it is important to distinguish products with a history of safe use from new ingredients or applications utilizing nanotechnology which have not undergone the same level of safety testing. IFAC believes that clearly defining nanotechnology for industry and consumers is a first step in doing so. Therefore, IFAC urges regulators and scientific communicators to clearly specify that nanotechnology refers to the human engineering of particles in order to create matter smaller than 100 nanometers. As the European Union (EU) describes in Article 3(2) of Regulation (EU) No 2015/2283, engineered nanomaterials are defined as “any intentionally produced material that has one or more dimensions of the order of 100 nm or less or that is composed of discrete functional parts, either internally or at the surface…” Nanotechnology should not be used interchangeably with nanoparticles or the generic term “nano,” which includes particles of nanoscale dimensions that occur naturally and/or are not necessarily produced through new forms of nanotechnology.  In addition, it is important that government labeling and industry sourcing policies serve to address newly engineered nanomaterials, so as not to proliferate irrational fear amongst consumers concerning the foods and beverages they have historically consumed.

IFAC strongly believes it is critical that all food ingredients and food contact materials undergo extensive safety testing prior to entering the food supply. IFAC supports the existing FDA regulatory framework for determining the safety of food additives, GRAS substances and food contact materials, as well as the European Commission’s food additive re-evaluation mandate. Such regulatory requirements ensure all foods and beverages on the market, including those manufactured using nanotechnology, are safe. In addition, while IFAC firmly supports clear, fact-based communications regarding nanotechnology, we also believe that the freedom to innovate through the use of advanced technologies is essential to respond to consumer demand, improve products and processes, and ultimately feed the growing global population.

The ability to innovate while continuing to comply with new and existing strict safety requirements is in line with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approach to be “adaptive and flexible and to take into consideration the specific characteristics and the effects of nanomaterials in the particular biological context of each product and its intended use.” Therefore, as innovative processes allow for the engineering of food ingredients and materials reduced to nanoscale, potential safety issues need to be assessed on a case by case basis. FDA has provided specific guidance to industry on the potential impact of significant manufacturing process changes involving nanotechnology on the safety and regulatory status of food substances.

IFAC believes it is the responsibility of both industry and regulators to develop responsible policies and guidance around the definition, labeling requirements, and industry use of nanotechnology. As with all novel ingredients, approvals and opinions intended to inform new standards or regulations should be based on the unbiased assessment of strong peer-reviewed research and stakeholder input.


IFAC Commends USDA for Upholding Organic Principles and Maintaining Carrageenan in Organic Food

On April 4, 2018 the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced carrageenan will continue to be allowed in organic foods and beverages, thus rejecting a recommendation by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to remove the substance based on a claim it is not essential to organic production. This decision turns back a potentially precedent-setting proposal that would have permitted an advisory board to discontinue the use of a substance based on inaccurate information and was not in line with organic principles.

Carrageenan has been permitted in organic food production since 2003, and was relisted based on recommendations from the NOSB in 2007 and 2011. While NOSB members raised questions in recent years about carrageenan safety, its November 2016 vote to remove carrageenan was based not on safety concerns, but on a perceived lack of essentiality in organic production. This, despite clear and substantive examples provided by the organic food industry that removing carrageenan would have significant impacts on the organic market and result in products that are less nutritious, less appealing, and more expensive, and in some cases removal of some products from the market altogether.

The AMS decision to keep carrageenan in organic food is not only good news for formulators and consumers, it represents sound scientific policy and demonstrates USDA’s commitment to making organic decisions based on science and technical evidence rather than manipulative opinions and misperceptions. Carrageenan has long been an additive of interest, despite its history of use in foods and repeated positive safety determinations by regulatory authorities worldwide. Upholding the NOSB’s vote and removing carrageenan from organic foods based on flawed arguments would have set a bad precedent for reviews of future organic materials and could have led to a drastic reduction in the options organic formulators have to make innovative products that meet consumer expectations and continue to grow the organic market.

IFAC strongly supports USDA’s sound, science-based decision to keep carrageenan in organic foods and, by doing so, avoid setting a dangerous precedent of delisting additives based on a perceived lack of essentiality. IFAC and its members will continue to work with regulators and the food industry to provide accurate and high quality scientific evidence to support the use of ingredients in organic food.

About IFAC
The International Food Additives Council (IFAC) is a global association representing manufacturers of food ingredients. Founded in 1980, IFAC strives to promote science-based regulation and the global harmonization of food ingredient standards and specifications.

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IFAC Statement on European Commission’s Market Study on Date Marking and Other Information Provided on Food Labels and Food Waste Prevention

In February 2018, the European Commission (EC) released a study investigating the relationship between date marking on food labels and food waste. The overall objective of the study was to help inform the European Union (EU) of actions it can take to help mitigate food waste, which is substantial in the EU and globally. It took a closer look at how date labeling practices are used by food businesses and authorities, and how they are interpreted by consumers and potentially lead to food waste.

Researchers found that up to 10 percent of the 88 million tons of food waste generated by the EU annually is linked to date marking, presumably due to widespread confusion around how to interpret dates on food labels. Of avoidable food waste based on date labels, the study found that the top products wasted were yogurt (70 percent), eggs (59 percent), cooking sauces (59 percent), and cakes and desserts (28 percent).

Date marking practices were originally introduced by supermarkets to help ensure the freshness of foods and optimize stock control. Today, the intended audience has shifted to consumers, and, in accordance with European regulations[i], most packaged foods in the EU display a date and accompanying language to indicate whether the date represents a safety threshold (“use by”) or the point after which quality would likely be diminished (“best before”). However, there is flexibility in how a “best before” date is indicated depending on the length of the product’s shelf life.

The study found variations in how manufacturers made decisions to use certain language. For example, producers of products with longer shelf lives, such as ketchup, tended to use “best before” on the premise of “microbiological stability”, whereas manufacturers of foods with shorter shelf lives, such as dairy products, tended to employ “use by” dates based on food safety. In addition, the study notes that producers are influenced by common date marking practices used in national markets, and consumer preferences or expectations.

While manufacturers often rely on consumer preferences for date marking practices, there is significant evidence that many consumers fundamentally don’t understand how to interpret date marks. The study references a major survey previously commissioned by the EC which found that while a majority of EU consumers (58 percent) consider “use by” and “best before” dates when shopping and preparing meals, only 47 percent actually understand “best before” labelling and 40 percent understand “use by” labeling.  As a result, cautious consumer behavior due to a lack of understanding regarding the safety or quality of a product can lead to the disposal of products despite still being fit for consumption.

The study notes that a possible solution to reducing this problem is extending the product life of foods. While this can be done by revising existing expiration dates, shelf life can also be extended with ingredients, such as xanthan gum or sodium phosphate. For example, as shown in Table 4, extending product life by one extra day would save 16,000 tons (approximately 35,264,000 pounds) of bread annually.

Based on the study findings, the authors suggest food waste linked to date marking would be reduced if:

  • Date marks are present and legible, with clear meaning;
  • Consumers have a good understanding of date labelling (notably the distinction between “use by” – as an indicator of safety – and “best before” – as an indicator of quality);
  • “Use by” dates are used only where there is a safety-based rationale for doing so, consistent with the FIC Regulation;
  • The product life stated on the packaging is consistent with the findings of safety and quality tests; and/or
  • There is a level of consistency in storage of food at retail and guidance for consumers regarding the temperatures at which products should be stored in the home.

Misunderstandings regarding date labeling terminology and appropriate responses to date marks can lead to wasted food. Although this study is intended to inform actions of the EU, its findings and recommendations can be applied internationally to all consumers, retailers and manufacturers. The International Food Additives Council (IFAC) endorses the EU’s efforts to shed light on the global issue of food waste, and is committed to advocating for food practices and ingredients that can help the food manufacturing industry and consumers prevent it. IFAC supports continued cooperation and innovation amongst all those involved in the food supply chain in preventing food waste and its related impacts on human and environmental health.

Learn more about the types of food ingredients used to ensure the safety and sustainability of foods here.

[i] Official Journal of the European Union. (2011). Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on Food Information to Consumers.


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IFAC Agrees with EFSA Re-Affirming Safety of Cellulose

A recent scientific opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on the re-evaluation of celluloses as food additives confirmed previous conclusions that celluloses are safe, and that there are no concerns or issues at reported-use levels.

Cellulose is a non-digestible carbohydrate that is naturally present in many plant foods. Cellulose is also used to thicken and stabilize a variety of prepared foods. Celluloses have been approved for use in foods and beverages for decades and have recently been re-examined as part of the European Commission’s broader re-evaluation mandate.

EFSA’s Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food (ANS) conducted the re-evaluation on various forms of celluloses, which was last completed in 1989.  The ANS Panel evaluated the following forms of cellulose:

 Microcrystalline cellulose

  • Powdered cellulose
  • Methyl cellulose, ethyl cellulose
  • Hydroxypropyl cellulose
  • Hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose
  • Ethyl methyl cellulose
  • Sodium carboxy methyl cellulose
  • Enzymatically hydrolysed carboxy methyl cellulose
  • Cross-linked carboxy methyl cellulose

 Due to the similarities in structural, physicochemical and biological properties, the Panel was able to determine all celluloses are safe based on the data submitted. According to EFSA’s opinion, research that included animal and human data confirmed there are no safety concerns at the current levels being consumed through celluloses that are naturally present and those that are modified for use in food applications. Additionally, the Panel concluded there was no need to set an acceptable daily intake level or ADI for cellulose, given there is no safety concern with the reported uses and use levels in food.

IFAC fully supports the conclusion found by the EFSA Panel and hopes this evaluation will provide more clarity to food manufacturers and consumers who may be concerned with various celluloses found in their food. Celluloses provide naturally-sourced benefits in foods like ice cream, dressings, sauces, some types of bread and processed meats.

Learn more about the functions and benefits of cellulose and cellulose gum in foods here.

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