2011.04.20 Maybe it’s time I start ignoring product labels

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

A while back, I was looking at a label on a ketchup bottle in a local restaurant when the owner, not unfamiliar with this column, confiscated it, saying, “I’m taking this back before you end up writing about it.” Actually, I ran a ketchup column way back in 2000 so he had little to worry about. Other product labels, however, are still fair game.

A box of Raisinets recently followed me home and was good for a chuckle or two. A blurb on the front panel bragged that they were a “Natural source of fruit antioxidants.” The info about those natural antioxidants being coated in milk chocolate full of artery-clogging saturated fat is saved for the back of the box.

The box front also features artwork of a medal claiming the product is a “Best Taste Award Winner.” The box back explains the award is given “to the brand rated highest overall among leading brands by independent professional chefs.” Can’t you just imagine Chef Gordon Ramsey leaving Hell’s Kitchen long enough to judge Raisinets? I suppose he’d say something like “These look like they’re raccoon droppings, but they’re bloody delicious!”

While I’m talking about taste, I should mention my disapproval of the way some companies try to fool my taste buds. Another recent purchase was of a liquid product billed as “Strawberry Kiwi” and “100% Juice” on the front. But check out the ingredient list and kiwi is the fourth of five different juices listed, followed by strawberry. 

First juice in the list is apple, followed by grape (white grape, I’d bet) and pineapple. Then came the two juices I thought I was buying. I actually like pineapple juice, but why mix it with strawberry? Obviously to save money by using cheaper juices, but charging like it was only strawberry and kiwi. If they had simply called it “Fruit Punch,” I would probably have passed it by.

Another bottle, labeled on the front as “100% Apple Juice,” made me feel like a world traveler by the time I finished the contents. I know some companies combine several varieties of apples in an attempt to improve the taste, but this was ridiculous.

This brand’s ingredient label listed apple juice concentrate from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China and the United States. Drinking a glass was a little like visiting the United Nations, only in liquid form. I hate it when my lowly glass of apple juice has been in two more continents than me.

But it could be worse. Some companies, probably in an attempt to cover as much of their corporate posterior as possible, list every possible eventuality on their label. That way, no matter what they end up putting in their product, and wherever they end up making it, not to mention what’s happening in the adjacent assembly line, no one can accuse them of leaving it off the label.

Take, for instance, a can of chocolate-covered cashews I recently purchased (after I finished the Raisinets). I learned that the company is from Jersey City, New Jersey, but that’s the only thing about the snack they’ll willing to state without a doubt, except that it’s packed in the United States.

The “product” itself is “from USA and/or Canada and/or Malaysia.” Not ambiguous enough for you? There’s the cashews, which are “from Vietnam and/or Brazil and/or India and/or Africa.” After they are gathered from one or all of those areas, they are roasted in “Peanut and/or Cottonseed and/or Sunflower and/or Canola Oil.”   

And those suffering from allergies should be aware that the facility in the USA, Canada, Malaysia (or any possible combination thereof) uses “milk, egg, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, sulfites and sesame products.” So, no matter what food may cause you or your family problems, there’s a fair chance it was somewhere in the plant the cashews came from.

In fact, the more cashews I eat, the queasier I’m beginning to feel myself. But I’m not yet sure if it’s a food allergy and/or acid reflux and/or food poisoning and/or my imagination. Maybe I’d better read the label on the bottle of Tums. What could it hurt?

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