When it comes to food labeling, the term "fresh" does not necessarily mean the same as "raw," according to the National Food Processors Association (NFPA).

"'Fresh' is a powerful term to describe foods, and it is clearly a word that conveys a strong message of product quality in the minds of consumers," said Regina Hildwine, NFPA's Senior Director of Food Labeling in Standards, in testimony delivered at a public meeting held by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). "'Fresh' could mean that the food product is recently harvested or recently prepared, or that it possesses certain nutritional attributes or other properties, such as color or aroma, that are associated with recently harvested or prepared foods. For this reason, we believe that FDA should propose amendments to existing food labeling requirements, to accommodate those technologies that help retain product characteristics that could be considered 'fresh.'"

Hildwine made her comments at a meeting held by FDA in Chicago on July 21. The meeting's purpose was to solicit input on whether the use of the term "fresh" is truthful and not misleading on foods processed with alternative technologies, and on what type of criteria FDA should use when considering use of the term with future technologies.

"The realities of modern agricultural practices, food distribution and marketing, and the location of population centers distant to agricultural centers means that most foods have to be treated in some manner to retain nutritional characteristics and organoleptic properties over the time needed to reach consumers," Hildwine stated. "Technologies are needed to keep food 'fresh,' and thus it is important to accommodate new technologies that help achieve this objective."

As an example, Hildwine pointed out that "On July 21, FDA published a final rule to authorize the treatment with irradiation of fresh shell eggs for control of Salmonella. Certainly, the irradiated shell eggs would have to be held under the same refrigeration conditions as untreated eggs. NFPA believes that it would not mislead consumers to claim that irradiated shell eggs - or any food irradiated within the limits approved for irradiation - are indeed 'fresh.'"

Hildwine concluded that "The term 'fresh' should be used on food labels in a truthful, non-misleading manner. New processing technologies will continue to emerge and become commercially viable. Therefore, it is appropriate for FDA to reexamine its labeling rules to accommodate new processing technologies, and perhaps to consider certain products that have come onto the market during the past decade to evaluate whether their characteristics should enable them to use the label claim 'fresh.'"

NFPA is the voice of the $460 billion food processing industry on scientific and public policy issues involving food safety, nutrition, technical and regulatory matters and consumer affairs. For further information on this subject, call Timothy Willard, Vice President of Communications (202) 637-8060), or visit NFPA's Website at www.nfpa-food.org.