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What Are Standards of Identity? Or How Do I Know My Sandwich Bread Is Actually Bread?

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

By Ashley Ellixson

Bags of bread (Photo from saveur.com).

If the title doesn’t have you scared away or beyond confused, welcome to today’s blog post on standards of identity for food. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets out standards of identity for products that are given a “common name.” A common name is the name by which a product is generally known by consumers. For example, the common name for sourdough would be “bread.” The term “common name” is defined by the Food and Drug Regulations as one of the following:

1. The name of a food printed in boldface type in the Food and Drug Regulations;

2. The name prescribed by any other regulation; or

3. If the name of the food is not covered by 1 or 2 above, the name by which the food is generally known

Before studying food law, I had no idea that the word “bread” could only be put on food products that complied with the standard of identity set out by the Food and Drug Regulations. Now I am sure you’re wondering, what in the world is this term “standard of identity”? A standard of identity sets out what ingredients a product must contain, which ingredients it may contain, and any requirements of manufacturing. If, and only if, the food product meets these standards of identity can it be labeled with the common name which that standard of identity describes.

Let’s go back to our bread example. The standard of identity set out for “bread” in the Food and Drug Regulations is generally “foods produced by baking mixed yeast-leaved dough prepared from one or more of the” flour ingredients listed, one or more of the wet ingredients listed, and one or more of the leavening ingredients. Additionally, there are 92 optional ingredients for “white” bread alone. To summarize the entire standard of identity, bread, rolls, and buns shall contain not less that 62% total solids. So, if you decide to open a bakery to bake bread, you will want to make sure to be in compliance with the standard of identity for bread in order to call it bread.

Just Mayo brand jars of vegan mayo and cookie dough (Photo from washingtonpost.com).

There are issues that arise when it comes to standards of identity. For example, Just Mayo is a mayonnaise that is vegan and thus egg-free. For mayonnaise, the standard of identity states that “egg-yolk containing ingredients” must be used in the condiment. This has caused quite the debate in the food law world as to whether Hampton Foods, the manufacturer of Just Mayo, is mislabeling and misleading consumers in violation of the regulations. To read more and see the full story, click here.

Resources: Code of Federal Regulations

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