The Food and Drug Administration said it will stop regulating French dressing after keeping a tight rein on its key ingredients since 1950.
The US agency announced on Wednesday that it would lift guidelines that required manufacturers to sell a product with 35% vegetable oil if it wanted to market it as “French dressing.”
French dressing also had been required to contain vinegar or lemon or lime juice. Other ingredients like salt, tomato paste, and spices were permitted, but not required.
The FDA said that the stringent threshold “no longer promotes honesty and fair dealing” for the benefit of consumers.
By removing the standard, the FDA hopes to “provide greater flexibility in the product’s manufacture, consistent with comparable, nonstandardized foods available in the marketplace.”
The move was made in response to a 1998 petition that was filed by the Association of Dressings and Sauces. It is unclear why the FDA waited until recently to address the group’s petition.
The trade group argued that the FDA’s strict guidelines stifled innovation and left consumers with limited options on the market.
Customers who were looking for low-fat or fat-free versions of the condiment were out of luck since those products could not legally be marketed as “French dressing,” according to the ADS.
The group also wondered why French dressing was subjected to scrutiny while most other dressings were not.
In a statement, ADS said it “supports” the FDA’s decision.
“Since the standard was adopted, there has been a proliferation of a wide variety of non-standardized pourable salad dressings with different flavors (e.g., Italian, Blue cheese, Vinaigrette, Ranch, Caesar) and composition (including reduced fat, “light” and fat-free dressings),” the trade group said in a statement.
“The French dressing standard does not serve as a benchmark for these pourable salad dressings, due to the variation in composition to meet changing consumer needs. As a result, the French dressing standard simply restricts innovation.”
Now that the guidelines have been lifted, makers of French dressing can choose to either add or subtract vegetable oil or tomato paste so long as they are safe for consumers.
Judging by American tastes, the decision on French dressing probably won’t have much effect on sales. In 2017, a survey by the ADS found that ranch dressing was the most preferred condiment. The second-most popular dressing was Italian.
Rules governing the marketing of foods, including milk and cottage cheese, were put in place decades ago by the federal government to ensure quality.
The FDA says it’s rethinking its oversight as part of its Nutrition Innovation Strategy, which was enacted in 2018 to “take a fresh look at what can be done to reduce preventable death and disease related to poor nutrition,” according to its website.
The FDA also regulates other foods including mayonnaise and vanilla extract. The FDA defines mayo as constituting no less than 65% vegetable oil by weight. Vanilla extract could only be sold if it contained at least 35% ethyl alcohol by volume.
During the Trump administration, officials at the FDA proposed revoking guidelines governing the classification of frozen cherry pies.
The rules for frozen cherry pies, which have been around for decades, say they must be 25% cherries by weight with no more than 15% of the cherries being blemished.