In this era of healthier foods and a renewed focus on food safety, companies are expected to have flavor ingredients meet all necessary safety standards.
To bring together safety information relevant to the flavor industry, the FEMA Flavor Ingredient Library was created by the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association of the United States (FEMA). FEMA is the national association of the U.S. flavor industry comprised of flavor manufacturers, users, ingredient suppliers, and others who take interest in the country’s flavor industry.
Food and beverage companies may be considering flavor ingredient changes or may be interested in what flavors are available on the market today. Companies can use this library to find all of the safety data and analysis they need to make an informed decision about flavor ingredients with FEMA GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status.
Enter: FEMA Flavor Ingredient Library
While all of the information concerning FEMA GRAS flavor ingredients has been readily available, that information generally came from a number of different sources, which made it more difficult for interested parties to locate all of the information they needed regarding flavor ingredient safety.
To solve this issue, FEMA developed the FEMA Flavor Ingredient Library. The library compiles a wealth of safety information into one website complete with appropriate identifiers, such as the CAS and CRS numbers, assessment information when available, and a link to the PDF of the GRAS Substances publication the ingredient first appeared in. That data is among a "tremendous amount" of other information, according to Christie Harman, FEMA’s health and safety director.
"We have all those files anyway, but linking them all together and doing all the programming for it to be functional on a website was really the focus of the effort," said Harman. "It really speaks to the commitment of FEMA to providing this information for public release and making it as friendly a way as possible to access it."
"This was our recognition of the increasing need […] to understand more about these ingredients and how they’re determined to be safe," said Mathew Gulick, communications director at FEMA. "So it was really in response to what we’ve seen as an increasing desire for this knowledge from others."
How the library can help companies
While the FEMA Flavor Ingredient Library was originally intended for researchers, the media, and consumers, food and beverage companies can derive useful information from this library as well.
During the R&D process, it’s common for companies to experiment with different flavor ingredients. But with thousands of ingredients available under sometimes indistinguishable chemical names, how are companies to know which flavor ingredients are possibilities for what they’re looking for?
The FEMA Flavor Ingredient library includes flavor profile information, such as fruit, nut, or garlic, for many of the ingredients on the site, which can help companies determine potential flavors and flavor alternatives for their products.
The library also offers specific safety information that may be of importance to companies, such as the SLR, or scientific literature review, which is sponsored by the FDA, or the JECFA Summary, which comes from the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives.
The changing nature of flavors
Food and beverage flavors have made headlines a number of times this year, particularly when it comes to removing artificial flavors from products. Nestle announced it would be removing artificial flavors from its frozen pizzas and chocolate candy, General Mills from its cereals and fruit snacks, Kellogg from its cereals and some snack bars and Eggo frozen products, and Mondelez from many of its snack products.
According to one study, 64% of Americans are checking products’ ingredients labels, paying most attention to easy-to-understand ingredient information, no artificial additives, free from preservatives, and no artificial colors. Another survey showed that more consumers are now focused on chemicals in their food over foodborne illness when it comes to food safety concerns.
Some experts believe that natural ingredients aren’t any healthier for consumers or more sustainable. Emma Boast, program director of the Museum of Food and Drink, which is hosting the exhibition "Flavor: Making It and Faking It," told Forbes, "We don’t have any evidence distinguishing the nutritional benefits of natural and artificial food flavoring at this point."
Boast also told Forbes that "Although odds are much higher of finding artificial food flavoring in potato chips than in broccoli for instance, the sugar and starch-rich component of the snack can be more easily considered as the culprit of the negative dietary effect before the artificiality of the flavoring comes into play."
Clean labels are becoming a mainstay in the food and beverage industries rather than a passing trend, as a recent study found that one in five tracked products had a clean label, an increase from 17% the year before.
"All the links that are available for flavor ingredients hopefully speaks volumes as to what goes into the safety evaluation of these ingredients," said Harman.
What FEMA GRAS status means
Established in 1959, the FEMA GRAS program employs an expert panel that evaluates a number of different factors to determine the safety of flavor ingredients. That panel generally includes top experts in toxicology, organic chemistry, biochemistry, metabolism, and pathology.
A company submits an application for approval of an ingredient which includes a variety of information, such as exposure, metabolism, toxicology, and a complete literature search. Companies perform the studies and submit the results with their application for the expert panel to review.
For food ingredients to be labeled as GRAS, they must meet four key criteria:
- There must be general recognition of safety by qualified experts.
- The experts must be qualified by training and experience to evaluate the substance’s safety.
- The experts must base their determination of safety on scientific procedures or on common use in food prior to 1958.
- The determination of general recognition of safety must take into account the conditions of intended use for the substance, in other words its function in the food, e.g. flavoring.
The scientific basis for these determinations include detailed summaries that are peer reviewed in scientific literature, and the identity of the FEMA GRAS flavor ingredients are published regularly in the food industry journal, "Food Technology," as well as on the FEMA website. Companies can also have their ingredients published on an interim GRAS list if they want the ingredient to be listed before the next GRAS publication is released.
The FEMA GRAS 28 publication is due out in the next year and a half or so, depending on the expert panel’s evaluations and other factors.