*No Artificial Ingredients, Minimally Processed Pizza to the Rescue
Well, the grand old cliche happened at our house the other night: a minor disaster made us scrap our original supper plans, so we resorted on the classic standby: frozen pizza. But this was no ordinary pizza, by golly; this was a supreme ALL-NATURAL pizza (cue trumpet fanfare). You might be wondering what allows pizza makers – or any purveyor of foodstuffs – put such an appealing claim on a product. If given the choice between two similar products marked either “all-natural” or “all-artificial”, I believe any consumer would steer towards the “all-natural” variety. So what prevents the claim “all-natural” from being slapped on everything to give it a healthier halo? Rules, my friend. Rules.
The United States Department of Agriculture defines “natural” as something that has no artificial ingredients and is minimally processed (United States Department of Agriculture [USDA], 2015). The phrase “artificial ingredients” is used as a catch-all for the many sweeteners, flavorings, colors, preservatives, thickeners, etc. that are not derived from natural sources. Now, I’m not going to let this post becoming a rallying cry for natural ingredients and against artificial ones. The usefulness of artificial ingredients is explained very well on this site from the Food and Drug Administration. These ingredients serve the purpose of promoting palatable textures, flavors, and colors, and can serve the invaluable purpose of food safety. Their usage levels are also regulated with consumer safety in mind.
But, let’s say a company thinks an “all-natural” claim on their pizza will appeal to Millenials (such as myself) and other potential buyers in their markets. What’s their first step? Well, they take a look at what’s on that pizza pie. Any food product that is made of 3% or more raw meat, or 2% or more cooked meat, falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Bakota, 2019). If the product does not meet those percentage thresholds, it is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. An easy way to tell if a product is governed by the USDA is to look for a “USDA inspection legend” which is an essential part of USDA product labels. The inspection legend must appear on the part of the packaging most likely to be seen by the consumer, so this will be easy to find.
So, now we know this pizza and the box it came in are regulated by USDA. That’s terrific! Why is that terrific, you might ask? It’s terrific because labels for USDA-governed products that bear claims such as “all-natural” must receive official approval before they enter commerce (Schweihofer, 2011). That’s unlike FDA-governed foods which aren’t bound to a strict definition of “natural” (Nemo, 2018). This means a human being in Washington, D.C. received a facsimile of this pizza box long before I bought my pizza at the store, and, with a furrowed, serious brow, carefully examined the application sent by the pizza maker and read through the recipe and process of making said pizza to ensure the requirements of “all-natural” were met.
So, let’s start with the ingredient statement:
Notice that within the ingredient statement of this all-natural pizza is “uncured pepperoni” made not in the conventional way with sodium nitrite (curing agent) and sodium erythorbate (sodium nitrite’s sidekick cure accelerant) but celery juice powder (a natural source of nitrates and an effective curing agent for all-natural products). The difference in the two curing agents will definitely be featured in a later post.
Looks pretty natural to me. On to the process. Allowable steps for making an “all-natural” product are those that are considered traditional such as freezing, drying, smoking, grinding, fermenting, and other methods that don’t alter the fundamental properties of the ingredients (USDA, 2006). A good way to think of “minimally processed” is to consider whether people could carry out the same process at home or have carried out these processes for generations. Well, I’ve made pizza dough at home before, and the traditions of making cheese and meat products like sausages are ageless.
No artificial ingredients? Check.
Minimally processed? Also, check.
Even though my original dinner plans did not pan out as expected, our evening was saved by the frozen pizza, perhaps one of man’s greatest inventions, right up there with the telegraph and fuzzy dice. And not only was I enjoying pizza; I was enjoying all-natural pizza. I felt so good about what I was doing for my health I rewarded myself with ice cream.
Bakota, E. (2019 August 22). “FDA Vs. USDA: What’s the Difference?” Govloop. Retrieved from https://www.govloop.com/community/blog/fda-vs-usda-whats-the-difference/.
Nemo, L. (2018 April 30). “How the FDA’s New Definition for ‘Natural’ Food Could Affect Your Pantry.” Bon Appetit. Retrieved from https://www.bonappetit.com/story/natural-food-definition.
Schweihofer, Jeannine (2011, July 20). “What Does Meat Labeled Natural or Naturally Raised Really Mean?” Michigan State University. Retrieved from https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/what_does_meat_labeled_natural_or_naturally_raised_really_mean.
United States Department of Agriculture (2006 December 1). “Docket No. FSIS 2006-0040 Product Labeling: Definition of the Term ‘Natural'”. Federal Register Vol. 71, No. 233. [PDF]. Retrieved from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/c0b8c547-448d-4ed6-8d91-b49130a9244c/2006-0040.pdf?MOD=AJPERES.
United States Department of Agriculture (2015 August 5). Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms. Retrieved from: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/meat-and-poultry-labeling-terms/meat-and-poultry-labeling-terms/!ut/p/a1/jZDNCsIwEISfxQcI2doqepSCtFVbRNSYi6ya1kCblCYq-vRaREHxp7unZb5hh6GcMsoVHmWGVmqFeX3z7hqm0HX6PkRJ3xlCGC-mycj3oTfr3IDVDyB2G_q_zAD–aMGD9rVxJ9klJdo90SqVFOWCUtQmZOoDGWp1jtiMBX2TFLcWmL2QtiHkONG5FJllBUCa9eOlPqQ2-r8lIgVVWH-A0vKX-OCc9swdmdeEMUuJN478KHPO_C9sLKYs8t4EIAMW1dofMrM/#14