The Fancy Food Show was in town this month! I love wandering around the show, checking out the trends and secretly searching for false claims, labeling violations or stuff that is just misleading! That’s what food scientists do, and then we pick up the phone, call the FDA and make sure you are BUSTED!!

But the reality is, there are just too many products out there for the FDA to inspect for compliance. Unless your product is under USDA jurisdiction, you don’t have to have it inspected or approved before putting it on the shelf. This is all the more reason to do your diligence and make sure you don’t accidently mislead or omit any important information.

Here are a few common mistakes that start up food entrepreneurs make that could result in a product recall or even worse—causing someone to get sick or die!

Allergen Labeling – Clearly state if any of the 8 major allergens are in your product. These include Milk, Eggs, Fish, Shellfish, Tree-nuts, Peanuts, Wheat and Soy. Double check every ingredient that goes into your product to make sure they don’t have hidden allergens (such as dry seasoning blends that may contain soy or nut powders). Just check the FDA recalls and you will see how many products are recalled almost every day for accidently not listing an allergen. By the way—coconut is considered an allergen in the U.S.A., and Canadian allergens include sesame seeds and mustard.

Serving Size – Unfortunately, your 1-lb muffin that delivers 9 grams of protein is not an honest serving size! The FDA uses a Referenced Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACC) that a normal muffin size is 55 grams (that’s about 2 oz). You may not consider this a portion, but the FDA does. Watch your sizes and base your nutritional information on the required reference that can be found in Title 21 of the CFR part 101.12

All Natural – watch out? The FDA has no definition of “all-natural,” a fact that has resulted in numerous class action lawsuits. The rules are vague and there are lots of ingredients that may seem natural – such as modified food starch and alkali processed cocoa – that are not. You have to figure that if big companies such as Trader Joe’s and Ben and Jerry’s are getting sued then you can get in trouble too. Your best bet is to just stay away from the “All Natural” term. The All Natural terminology is just 10 years old – try to focus on other ways to market your product in a more measurable and certifiable way (Gluten Free, Kosher, Organic—etc)

Net Carbs – This is a made up word used to indicate the total number of carbohydrates minus soluble fiber and sugar alcohols. The term is not based on sound science and can give consumers the false impression that they do not contribute any calories or raise blood sugar levels. The FDA has not yet taken a position on words such as “net carbs;” however, they will evaluate labels on a case-by-case basis to ensure that the brand owner is not “characterizing” the amount of carbohydrates in a product. If you do want to market your product as having a lower carbohydrate level, and imply that it will help with weight loss, be very careful of your wording and run your final statements by a regulatory lawyer!

Keep it real – Don’t hide – All food entrepreneurs have the best of intentions and want to make sure that their creations are healthy and clean; however, there are many tempting and alluring food science shortcuts that may make your product taste great or last longer on the shelf… but also make your product not as “real” or as “clean” as you want it to be. Don’t try to hide what you are doing! If you are going to jack up your fiber levels with soluble corn fiber then just put it on the label and fess up! Calling your natural flavors “extracts” is not fooling anyone (ok maybe it is, but you know deep down that you are misleading!) – Don’t try to downplay your protein sources or bacteria inhibiting preservative levels.

Before you put your product on the market, have the entire package reviewed by a regulatory lawyer or food scientist. Hidden mistakes can result in millions of dollars lost and sully your brand name and reputation.

For more information about bringing food products to market, check out my book found at

“Intrepid Culinologist” Rachel Zemser, MS, CCS, knows specialty food processing (making, producing, manufacturing)! And she is a proud Sponsor of Food Entrepreneur Magazine. Jan 2015.