The FDA Releases New Temporary Food Labeling Guidelines | What This May Mean For Product Liability Lawsuits

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live our lives. One consequence of the pandemic is widespread food shortages, and in response, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recently published new guidance concerning food labeling. Essentially, food producers are now given more flexibility as to what they may or may not include on their ingredient labels, allowing them to omit “minor changes.” Though the decision was made to ease the stress of supply chain disruptions, many individuals with serious food allergies are worried about its implications.

What is the substance of the FDA’s recent announcement?

Under these new guidelines, food producers may change, omit, or substitute certain ingredients without updating the list of ingredients on the package as long as the change “does not cause any adverse health effect.” The specific rules in the guidelines are as follows:

  • The omitted or substituted ingredient must not be a major ingredient and must only make up 2% or less of the food 
  • Characterizing ingredients cannot be changed 
  • The omitted or substituted ingredient must not impact the product’s nutritional value

In these guidelines, the FDA provides certain examples of passable changes or omissions. They are as follows:

  • Green peppers may be omitted from the ingredient list of a pre-packaged vegetable quiche
  • Companies may substitute canola oil for sunflower oil since they contain similar fats and neither is a common allergen
  • Companies may substitute unbleached flour for bleached flour, so long as the bleaching agent is in short supply

What does this mean for product liability lawsuits?

Product designers and manufacturers/producers are responsible for what they sell to the public. One aspect of ensuring a product’s safety is including potential warning labels to prevent improper/dangerous use of that product. For example, though a chainsaw is safe, it can quickly become a very dangerous tool if improperly used, so they must include instructions, as well as clear and visible warnings of how not to use the product. This concept similarly applies to food. When someone has food allergies, they are entitled to know whether a given food contains the allergen that causes them to have a reaction. Rather obviously, the recent move by the FDA may endanger certain people with severe, albeit uncommon allergies, as certain products may no longer inform them that they contain a certain allergen. 

Many advocacy groups are now up in arms over the move, as CEO Dave Bloom said in a statement, “If you have a food allergy, the substitution of ingredients can be extremely dangerous and can cause anaphylaxis. The fact that they (the FDA) say 2% or less of an ingredient is changed means nothing because even a little trace of an allergen can cause a reaction and send someone to the hospital.” He went on to say, “There are 32 million Americans that have a food allergy – that’s one in 10 of us that are put at risk by this.”

We do not yet know how long these temporary guidelines will be in place, however, we can only hope that nobody becomes the unintended victim of an otherwise presumably well-intentioned move by the FDA. That being said, if you or somebody you know has been harmed by the recent change, please do not hesitate to speak with our experienced Florida personal injury attorneys today. We are here to help.

Contact our experienced Florida firm

Ansbacher Law is composed of knowledgeable attorneys who are ready to assist clients with various legal matters throughout North Florida. We understand the urgency of your personal injury claim and additional legal matters, which is why we provide each of our clients with compassionate and efficient legal assistance, every step of the way. Please contact our office for an initial consultation today.