The FDA began establishing Standards of Identity (SOI) in 1939, and since then, the agency has established more than 250 SOIs. Products like milk, milk chocolate, various breads, peanut butter, and ketchup have a SOI. SOIs often describe in detail what a food must contain and what is optional and sometimes describe the amount or proportion of ingredients or components. Many SOIs also prescribe a method of production or formulation.
The FDA is updating its SOI program with the goal of maintaining the basic nature and essential characteristics of standardized foods while permitting flexibility with respect to their composition.
SOIs were first established in 1939 to help address economic adulteration that was occurring in the marketplace. For example, there were products that were represented as jams containing fruit, but the products contained little fruit (e.g., the SOI for fruit preserves and jams requires that products represented as jam contain a minimum amount of fruit).
SOIs were developed to help protect consumers and promote honesty and fair dealing. SOIs have been established to ensure that the characteristics, ingredients and production processes of specific foods are consistent with what consumers expect. Today, economic adulteration is no longer such a prominent issue for most foods, and changes in food labeling requirements give consumers more information about the foods they buy (e.g., nutrition information, ingredient lists, and food allergens). However, the establishment of food standards may still benefit consumers in some cases by ensuring honesty and fair dealing.
The FDA’s work to update SOIs falls into three categories:
- Establishing principles to more transparently communicate what the agency will consider when determining whether to revise, eliminate, or establish a food standard;
- Updating individual SOIs to allow for continued innovation in the marketplace, including updating SOIs to reflect modern technologies and processing methods; and
- Updating SOIs to ensure they are supporting the production and innovation of healthier food.
French Dressing. The FDA issued a final rule in January 2022 revoking the SOI for French dressing because it is outdated. Based on information submitted to the FDA, consumers appear to expect French dressing to have certain characteristics not required by the standard, such as containing tomatoes or tomato-derived ingredients. Products tend to maintain these characteristics in the absence of requirements for them.
Frozen Cherry Pie. The agency proposed in December 2020 to revoke the SOI and standard of quality for frozen cherry pie. The standards do not appear necessary to ensure that these products meet consumer expectations, and the FDA has tentatively concluded that they are no longer necessary to promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers and may limit flexibility for innovation.
Cheeses and Ultrafiltered (UF) Milk. In April 2020, the FDA re-opened the comment period on a proposed rule to permit the use of fluid UF milk and fluid UF nonfat milk in the production of standardized cheeses and related cheese products. Reopening the comment period allows the FDA to solicit any new information, including current industry practices, regarding the use of fluid UF milk and fluid UF nonfat milk in cheesemaking and on labeling of fluid UF milk and fluid UF nonfat milk when used as ingredients.
General Principles. The FDA is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish a set of general principles to use when considering whether to revise, eliminate, or establish a food standard. This is being informed, in part, by comments received when the FDA reopened the comment period in February 2020 on a joint FDA-USDA rule proposed in 2005 to establish a set of general principles for food standards.
Yogurt. The FDA reviewed objections submitted by the International Dairy Foods Association and Chobani in July 2021 to certain provisions in the final rule to amend the yogurt standard of identity. The FDA issued the final rule to amend the yogurt SOI in June 2021. On March 22, 2022, the FDA published a notice to clarify that the effective dates of certain provisions of the yogurt standard of identity final rule have been stayed. On December 14, 2022, the FDA responded to several objections and requests for a hearing on provisions in the yogurt standard of identity final rule. The FDA denied the requests for a hearing and modified certain provisions in the final rule. The compliance date is January 1, 2024. Additional details can be found in the Federal Register notice.
Canned Tuna. The FDA is developing a proposed rule to modernize the SOI and standard of fill of container for canned tuna.
Cheeses and Ultrafiltered Milk. The agency is finalizing a rule to amend SOI regulations for certain cheeses to allow for the use of fluid ultrafiltered milk, which would support innovation in cheesemaking. The FDA issued a proposed rule to amend the regulations to provide for the use of fluid ultrafiltered milk in the manufacture of standardized cheeses and related cheese products on October 19, 2005. and re-opened the comment period on the proposed rule in April 2020.
Partially Hydrogenated Oils. To facilitate the production of healthier standardized foods, the FDA is amending all SOIs that allow the inclusion of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) to no longer list PHOs as an optional ingredient. The FDA previously determined that PHOs, which are the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, are no longer generally recognized as safe.
Substitute Ingredients. The FDA is exploring how it can facilitate the production of healthier standardized foods to allow for substitute ingredients through a horizontal approach. Under such an approach, all SOIs that permit or require a particular ingredient could be modified in one rulemaking to permit a substitute ingredient(s). This approach could be used for a substitute ingredient that could make foods healthier.
Citizens Petitions. The FDA continues to review citizen petitions regarding SOIs, such as two requests to establish a SOI for olive oil and olive pomace oil. The petitions differ in how the SOI would be structured and propose different quality categories (e.g., virgin, extra virgin or olive).
SOIs for specific food products may be found in 21 C.F.R. Chapter 1, Subchapter B, Parts 131-169. Within each standard listed below, there may be standards for multiple products.
- Milk and Cream
- Cheeses and Related Cheese Products
- Frozen Desserts
- Bakery Products
- Cereal Flours and Related Products
- Macaroni and Noodle Products
- Canned Fruits
- Canned Fruit Juices
- Fruit Butters, Jellies, Preserves, and Related Products
- Fruit Pies
- Canned Vegetables
- Vegetable Juices
- Frozen Vegetables
- Eggs and Egg Products
- Fish and Shellfish
- Cacao Products
- Tree Nuts and Peanut Products
- Sweeteners and Table Sirups
- Food Dressings and Flavorings
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