Samples show reality can be vastly different from food label claims

By Sarah Schmidt, Postmedia News December 2, 2011

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has been testing food products to see if the nutrition information and health claims on the labels are accurate.
Here are a few examples of what inspections found, along with some overall statistics for tests carried out between 2007 and 2010.

The vast majority of the products remained on the market because CFIA has a policy to only recall items if there is an immediate health hazard, such as an undeclared allergen. Brand details were not released.

• A snack labelled as containing 1 milligram of sodium per serving was actually packed with 1,121 mg of sodium per serving, according to government testing.

This product was one of 79 snacks (out of 161 items or 49 per cent) found to be displaying incorrect composition claims about sodium, fats or other nutrients, in violation of Canada’s labelling rules.

In the case of the super-salty snack marketed as a low-salt option, inspectors referred the case to food safety specialists for a “risk assessment” because the sodium content “is very high compared to declared,” records show.

The food safety specialists determined that the item, while marketed with misleading info, did not pose a health risk, so it remained on store shelves.
CFIA required that products still in the manufacturer’s possession be relabelled to reflect the correct sodium content.

• In one instance, a carton of milk was supposed to be boosted with 200 international units of vitamin A per 100 millilitres, but tests showed it contained only 58 UI/100 mL.

This was one of 13 samples out of 50 (26 per cent) with unsatisfactory results due to over- or under-fortification of vitamins A or D in milk.
There’s a legal requirement to boost milk with a specific amount of the nutrients to meet a public-health need, but failing to meet the target does not pose an immediate health risk, so the products remained in the marketplace while CFIA followed up with the companies.

“Establishments are using vitamin premixes and they are relying on their suppliers’ procedures for addition and calculations of fortification of finished products. The industry conducts very little review of fortification procedures and does not analyze finished products to verify vitamin content with sufficient frequency,” a summary of test results states.

• Twenty-five of 52 samples of oils, spreads and margarines (48 per cent) failed to comply with CFIA’s “quality” labelling rules.
Reasons included misleading nutrient claims about omega fatty acids, vitamin E or cholesterol; inaccurate trans-fatty acid and non-hydrogenated claims; disallowed diet-related health claims regarding DHA and antioxidants; and various questionable claims such as “fresh-pressed” and “premium grade.”

Only three were recalled — because of the presence of undeclared milk in soy oil margarine. In the remaining 22 cases, CFIA “requested” label corrections and “educated” the companies on their regulatory obligations, according to a summary of the test results.

• Failure rates for confectionery items and baked goods were even higher. Among 208 bakery items tested for the accuracy of their composition claims, 122 (59 per cent) had inaccurate claims. Among 252 confectionary items tested, 159 (63 per cent) promoted at least one incorrect composition claim on the food packaging.