Group Urges FDA Crackdown on Misleading Tomato Sauce Labeling

Is your tomato sauce really made from fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes -- or from tomato concentrate?Several leading brands of tomato sauce and purees that claim to be made from fresh ingredients are actually made from industrial tomato concentrate, the National Consumers League said on Thursday.

The brands singled out by the NCL include Del Monte Seafood Cocktail Sauce, Classico Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce, Contadina Pizza Sauce and Puree, Francesco Rinaldi Original Traditional Pasta Sauce and Gia Russa Tomato Puree."Consumers are paying premium prices for products that imply they are made from fresh ingredients, but are really remanufactured from concentrate," Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the NCL, said in a statement.

The NCL wrote to the Food and Drug Administration, asking the agency to remind food producers that claims about products being made from fresh ingredients when they're actually made from concentrate are considered deceptive under federal law.

The consumer advocacy group also repeated its 2009 call for the FDA to require all fruit and vegetable products made from concentrate to be labeled "From Concentrate" on the front of all packaging.

The following brands of tomato products, the NCL charged, are deceptively labeled:
  • Del Monte Seafood Cocktail Sauce: Claims it's "Made from California Vine-ripened Tomatoes" on the front of the package when it is actually made from concentrate (tomato paste and added water). An image of a vine-ripened tomato appears directly below the claim.
  • Classico Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce: States on the label, "In colorful Naples, pasta sauces are pure and simple, with ripe, red tomatoes..." when the product is actually made from concentrate. The claim has been removed from new "value size" 44-oz. jars of the sauce, but still appears on the label of the smaller, 24-oz. product.
  • Contadina Pizza Sauce and Contadina Puree: States, "Contadina picks the Freshest Tomatoes," and "Our vine-ripened Roma style tomatoes are grown to a rich red color before picking..." (a picture on the front label depicts vine-ripened tomatoes and a tomato field, and the term "ROMA STYLE TOMATOES" appears on the front of the package below the Contadina brand name). Both products, however, are made from concentrate.
Francesco Rinaldi Original Traditional Pasta Sauce and Gia Russa Tomato Puree, the consumer group said, are also misleadingly labeled.

Jessica Jackson, a spokesperson for Heinz, which owns Classico, denied the NCL's accusations, and said all Classico sauces are made from the finest ingredients that fully comply with all FDA requirements.

"We are surprised by the National Consumers League's claim that Classico Tomato & Basil pasta sauce is not made from ripe, red tomatoes," Jackson told Consumer Ally. "The two primary ingredients in Classico Tomato & Basil pasta sauce are tomato puree and diced tomatoes, both of which are made from ripe, red tomatoes that are picked and processed at the peak of freshness."

Del Monte Foods, which is also the parent company of Contadina, did not respond to Consumer Ally requests for comment about its Seafood Cocktail Sauce or Contadina Pizza Sauce and Puree.

Since its previous complaint to the FDA, NCL said ConAgra Foods, the nation's largest producer of tomato sauces, has removed the claim "Packed full of premium vine-ripened tomatoes" from its Hunt's brand tomato sauce label, and the words "packed in season" were removed from the company's Angela Mia Pizza Sauce label.

"Companies making misleading claims should note that ConAgra, the industry leader, has changed some of its labels to ensure that their claims are honest and fair," said Greenburg in a statement. "We hope this sends a signal to other companies that taking corrective action is the smart thing to do given recent increases in regulatory scrutiny by federal and state authorities."
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