US Pharmacopeia (USP) is the non-governmental, non-profit authority responsible for setting the standards that make up the FCC, a compendium of ingredient monographs and tests to ensure the quality, purity and safety of more than 1,100 food ingredients.
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA at the IFT expo in New Orleans this week, USP’s director of food standards Markus Lipp, and vice president of food, dietary supplement and excipient standards James Griffith, said that natural ingredients present specific challenges. With increased demand for natural ingredients, the temptation becomes greater for small and medium-sized manufacturers in particular to cut expensive ingredients with cheaper alternatives.
“To describe standards for naturally derived products is always more challenging,” Lipp said. “There’s always some variation depending on season and geography…It’s a case by case problem but the challenge is to develop specific markers combined with absence of other compounds.”
Griffith said that it could start out innocently enough, with a food company perhaps adding some spirulina powder to another natural green food coloring but failing to list it. However, this opens the door to further adulteration, when the only person who has any idea of the risk to consumers is the adulterer.
“For colorants, it’s the perfect storm: consumers are demanding it; they’re getting tougher to source,” Griffith said. “The signals are there. There’s a complacent public and an overactive advertising philosophy going with it…There’s so much money that can be made so easily under the radar, you’re almost stupid if you’re not doing it.”
He said that as consumers have become increasingly financially pinched, they have become less choosy about buying trusted brands – yet everyone trusts that foods would not be for sale unless they had met some kind of minimum standard.
Lipp added that if a manufacturer is simply trying to make a cheaper product, that’s fine, as long as ingredients are labeled.
“Everybody in the supply chain should get the quality, or at least the perceived quality, that they paid for,” he said. “…At the end of the line it all needs to be safe. There is an intersection where quality meets safety and that’s where we can provide a third party independently developed set of criteria.”