The Food Standards Agency's Food Advisory Committee (FAC) has conducted research into the current use of the terms 'Fresh', Natural', 'Pure', 'Traditional', 'Original', 'Authentic' and 'Home-made/Farmhouse', with the aim of providing useful guidance to manufacturers, retailers and consumers. (FAC Review of the Use of the Terms Fresh, Pure, Natural etc. in Food Labelling 2001.)
The FAC found that 'there is clear room for improvement in the use of the terms' and that 'certain uses have become far-removed from their conventional meanings and have the potential to mislead consumers'. (FAC Review p 13.)
It also felt that pictures on labels and advertisements can exert powerful influences on prospective purchasers and, in some product sectors, may have a greater significance than names and other descriptive material. The FAC recommends that pictorial representations should be subject to the same scrutiny and control as the words used to portray similar images and concepts.
The FAC discussed the meaning and current use of the following terms in food labelling and advertising and suggested where their use was acceptable:.
Recommended Criteria for the Use of the Term 'Fresh' in Food Labelling and Advertising. (FAC Review Appendix 1.)
Fresh / Raw meat: Virtually all carcase meat is chilled to near or just below 0° C following slaughter, principally as a hygiene measure. The term 'fresh' is traditionally used to differentiate raw meat from that which has been (chemically) preserved. The FAC believes it would serve no purpose to disqualify chilled meat from use of the term 'fresh'.
Frozen / thawed meat: Until recently, UK Labelling legislation required a statement to be displayed near any meat that had been frozen but was being sold thawed, to the effect that it had 'been previously frozen, do not refreeze'. The FAC feels that recommends that this practice should continue as such meat would not be considered by the average consumer to be 'fresh' and recommends that the term should not be used in such circumstances.
Fruit juice: Where the intention is to indicate that the product is not made from fruit juice concentrate, the FAC recommends that 'juice from freshly squeezed fruit' should be used in place of 'freshly squeezed juice'. It recommends also that the term 'fresh' should not be used, directly or by implication, on juices prepared by dilution of concentrates.
Frozen foods: The FAC recommends that the term 'fresh' should only be used in relation to frozen foods if its use is clear from the context e.g. 'frozen from fresh', 'made with fresh ingredients' or similar expressions.
Fresh ingredients: The FAC recommends that 'made from fresh ingredients' should be used only where the intended meaning is that no processed ingredients were used.
Fresh taste: The FAC recommends that the expression 'fresh taste' should not be used where it could mislead the consumer, for example by implying 'freshly squeezed', unless it is clear from the context that the reference is to the 'tanginess' of the taste or if the appropriate criteria for 'freshness' are met.
Chilled foods: The increased sales of chilled convenience foods has led to the use of the term 'fresh' to indicate a moderate life under refrigerated conditions and to highlight the difference from conventional long-life products. The FAC recommends that the term 'fresh' should not be used in this manner unless the product complies with the appropriate criteria for its use, as set out in this guidance.
Recommended Criteria for the Use of the Term 'Natural' in Food Labelling and Advertising. (FAC Review Appendix 2.)
The FAC considers that in the context of food, 'natural' means essentially that the product is comprised of natural ingredients, e.g. ingredients produced by nature, not the work of man or interfered with by man. The FAC feels that it is misleading to use the term to describe foods or ingredients that employ chemicals to change their composition or comprise the products of new technologies. , including additives and flavourings that are the product of the chemical industry or extracted by chemical processes.
Processes such as freezing, concentration, pasteurisation and sterilisation, while playing a significant role in both making food safe and preserving it, do not accord with current consumer expectations of 'natural' foods. However, the process to which a 'natural' product has been subjected can be described using these terms (e.g. pasteurised natural lemon juice).
For single ingredient foods such as cheese, yoghurt and butter, acceptable processing is that which is strictly necessary to produce the final product.
The FAC feels that claims such as 'natural goodness', 'naturally better', or 'nature's way' are largely meaningless and should not be used.
Recommended Criteria for the Use of the Term 'Pure' in Food Labelling and Advertising (FAC Review Appendix 3.)
The term 'pure' should generally only be used in the following circumstances. To describe a single ingredient food:
Compound foods should not generally be described, directly or by implication, as 'pure'. It is, however, acceptable to describe such foods as 'made with pure ingredients', if all the ingredients meet the criteria above.
Fruit juice: 'Pure' is used only for non-sweetened fruit juice but may be used for concentrated juice reconstituted with water. The term 'pure' is therefore used to identify to consumers that no such additions have been made.
The FAC feels that 'pure' should not be included in any brand or fancy names, nor in coined or meaningless phrases, in such a way as to imply that a food that does not meet the criteria above is pure or made from pure ingredients.
Recommended Criteria for the Use of the Term 'Traditional' in Food Labelling and Advertising (FAC Review Appendix 4.)
The term 'traditional' should demonstrably be used to describe a recipe, fundamental formulation or processing method for a product that has existed for a significant period. The ingredients and process used should have been available, substantially unchanged, for that same period. The FAC considers it misleading to use the term 'traditional', without qualification, to distinguish an 'original' recipe from subsequent variants. Manufacturers and retailers must ensure that the term does not imply a composition or production method that would not be regarded as 'traditional' by the average consumer and should consider whether the term 'original recipe' or similar expression may be more appropriate.
Recommended Criteria for the Use of the Term 'Original' in Food Labelling and Advertising (FAC Review Appendix 5.)
The term 'original' should only be used to describe a food that is made to a formulation, the origin of which can be traced, and that has effectively remained unchanged over time. It can similarly be used to describe a process, provided it is the process first used in the making of the food, and which has remained unchanged over time. The FAC recommends that, to be termed 'original' a product should not have changed to any material degree and that it should remain available as the 'standard' product when new variants are introduced.
Recommended Criteria for the Use of the Term 'Authentic 'in Food Labelling and Advertising (FAC Review Appendix 6.)
It is difficult to draw absolute distinctions between terms such as 'authentic', 'real' and 'genuine'. The FAC feels that the term 'authentic' and analogous terms should only be used in the following circumstances: to emphasise the geographic origin of a product, for example where it might be confused with other products of the same name that do not originate from that location, e.g. 'authentic Devon toffees'; to describe the recipe used to make a product, the origin of which is specified, e.g. 'authentic Indian recipe curry'; to emphasise the purity of single varieties of ingredients where such purity is essential to deliver specific characteristics.
The FAC recommends that 'authentic' and analogous terms should not otherwise be used, without qualification, to describe either a food or an ingredient.
Recommended Criteria for the Use of the Term 'Home-Made' in Food Labelling and Advertising (FAC Review Appendix 7.)
'Home-made' is a term defined very simply and specifically in dictionaries: made or prepared in the home; of domestic manufacture; made at home using traditional methods rather than by a manufacturer; made by oneself; crudely or simply made. The FAC agrees that the public would understand the term 'home-made' to mean food prepared in a domestic kitchen rather than in a factory or a manufacturer's kitchen. The FAC recommends that the use of the term, if unqualified, should accordingly be restricted to the broad criteria above.
The FAC recommends also that, in order to avoid visual misrepresentation, factory-made foods should not be shown being made in small kitchens, farmhouses etc.
In order to accommodate the production of meals and dishes on commercial catering premises, the FAC recommends that the term 'home-made' should be restricted to the preparation of the recipe on the premises, from primary ingredients, andbut must involve some degree of fundamental culinary preparation.
Recommended Criteria for the Use of the Term 'Farmhouse' in Food Labelling and Advertising (FAC Review Appendix 8.)
Where the term is used in connection with foodstuffs, the FAC would expect it to refer to that produced on a farm or to the same quality and style as that likely to be produced on a farm. Given the vagueness of the term when used alone, the FAC recommends that its meaning should be made clear either within the context of sale (e.g. in a cottage restaurant) or by associated wording (e.g. 'farmhouse style' ((with picture of product)) or 'farmhouse style, chunky vegetables').
With the exception of its use to describe a style of bread, the FAC believes that simply to describe an ingredient as 'farmhouse', e.g. 'x with farmhouse vegetables', is meaningless. The FAC recommends that the term should not be used in this context.
The similar expression 'country style' does not appear to have any specific meaning. The FAC recommends that this phrase should not be used to describe any food or food ingredient.
Full copies of the Food Advisory Committee Review of the Use of the Terms Fresh, Pure, Natural etc. in Food Labelling 2001are available from Food Standards Agency, PO Box 369, Hayes, Middlesex UB3 1UT. Tel: 0845 606 0667; Fax: 020 8867 3225; Minicom: 0845 606 0678; Email: foodstandards@ eclogistics.co.uk and online at: http://www.foodstandards.gov.uk/committees/fac/labelreview.pdf