Undeclared sulfites in product labels are putting companies and consumers at risk
Despite the recent product recalls made by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some companies are inadvertently not declaring the true amount of sulfites in their dried fruit products, resulting from mislabeling practices and a mislead in consumer trust.
According to the FDA, as recently as 2021, a handful of companies still have actively open recalls for failing to (or unwittingly) disclose the true amounts of sulfite in their food products, posing a risk to consumers with sulfite sensitivities or those who suffer from asthma or asthma-related conditions.
Nearly 26 million people in the U.S. suffer from asthma with more than 100 million people in the U.S. experiencing various types of allergies each year, according to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC). Sulfite-related allergies affect those with asthma or respiratory conditions more than any other group of consumers. These individuals may experience allergic reactions, ranging from mild symptoms such as hives and wheezing to severe respiratory distress and, in rare cases, life-threatening anaphylaxis.
According to Sandra Maring, Seawind Foods’ Supplier Quality, “There is no guarantee that boiling out SO2 from products will effectively reduce the SO2 levels to below 10 ppm and render the product entirely sulfite-free.” Inconsistencies in SO2 residue levels within the same lot make it nearly impossible to ensure an entire lot is below 10 ppm. The challenge of controlling SO2 residue levels remains an ongoing risk for regulators, producers, and importers alike. The worst-case scenario arises when consumers with severe sulfite allergies discover excessive SO2 levels in products, as seen in recent FDA recalls.
What are the Potential Risks and Harm to Individuals?
Using food items containing or treated with SO2, even after attempting to boil it out, exposes consumers to unnecessary risks and increases harm to individuals with sulfite allergies or sensitivities. Individuals exposed to these allergens may experience a range of allergic reactions, from mild symptoms like hives and wheezing to more severe respiratory distress. In rare instances, life-threatening anaphylaxis can also occur.
What are the Potential Risks and Harm to Business?
Ensuring consumer safety and compliance with regulations is crucial for maintaining a positive brand image and fostering trust among customers. Neglecting these aspects can lead to negative publicity, loss of customer confidence, and long-term reputational damage. Adherence to relevant regulations and transparency helps companies avoid legal and regulatory risks, such as fines, penalties, and legal actions, ensuring smooth business operations.
Seawind Foods’ CEO Garry Green emphasizes the importance of protecting consumers with sulfite sensitivities and adhering to labeling regulations.
“Protecting consumers with sulfite sensitivities is of utmost importance to us,” says Green. “Strict adherence to labeling regulations is imperative. Failing to declare the presence of sulfites on product labels can lead to regulatory non-compliance, potential legal consequences, and damage to your brand reputation — not to mention the environmental and product quality impact of boiling out SO2.”
What are the Potential Environmental and Product Quality Concerns?
The process of boiling out SO2 from food items not only poses health risks for workers handling the chemicals but also generates environmentally harmful wastewater. The large amounts of water consumed during this process contribute to an increased ecological footprint, making it a less sustainable option. As companies strive to prioritize worker safety and environmental responsibility, finding alternative methods for preserving food items without the use of SO2 becomes increasingly important.
The boiling out process can compromise the quality and flavor of food items when compared to True-No SO2™ products. Consumers may experience a loss or reduced flavor in these treated products, diminishing their overall satisfaction. The recent FDA recall underscores the growing issue of undeclared sulfites in products, highlighting the need for greater transparency and adherence to regulations in order to protect consumers and maintain product quality.
Seawind Foods’ Dedication to Precise Labeling and Regulatory Compliance
Maring points out that keeping SO2 residues below 10 ppm is a difficult task for some manufacturers, particularly when producing large quantities of dried fruit products. Seawind Foods, on the other hand, emphasizes the importance of precise labeling and adherence to regulations. By doing so, they guarantee that their low sweet dried fruit is free from sulfur dioxide, effectively mitigating potential risks from the outset.
Ensuring Consumer Safety and Preserving Business Reputation in the Food Industry
The presence of undeclared sulfites in dried fruit products poses significant risks to both consumers and businesses. Individuals with sulfite sensitivities or respiratory conditions may experience adverse reactions, while companies face potential legal consequences, reputational damage, and environmental concerns. It is vital for businesses to prioritize accurate labeling, regulatory compliance, and the use of alternative preservation methods to protect consumer health and maintain product quality.
Seawind Foods serves as an exemplary model in this regard, demonstrating a strong commitment to precise labeling and adherence to regulations, ensuring their low sweet dried fruit remains free from sulfur dioxide and mitigating potential risks from the beginning. As the issue of undeclared sulfites continues to grow, it is crucial for companies to adopt responsible practices to safeguard consumer trust and maintain a strong market presence.
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