WASHINGTON -- After telling makers of spaghetti sauce, orange juice concentrate and cooking oil that their product labels are misleading, the Food and Drug Administration is now working its way up the grocery aisle -- toward snack foods, peanut butter and mayonnaise.
FDA spokesmen said yesterday that it would be "logical" to assume that some manufacturers of the three products, along with margarine and salad dressing, soon will be
told the agency believes consumers are being misled by claims that the products are "cholesterol-free."
Procter & Gamble agreed this week to drop the phrase "No Cholesterol" from Crisco corn oil a few hours after the FDA warned the company that the label was misleading and violated the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
Officials of Best Foods Inc. and Great Foods of America Inc. received similar warnings about claims on Mazola Corn Oil and HeartBeat Canola Oil, respectively, but had not replied yesterday.
Meanwhile yesterday, consumer advocates praised FDA Commissioner David Kessler for mounting an aggressive campaign to enforce food-labeling laws.
"Two swallows don't make a spring, but I think these actions are a very good sign that the FDA is coming back to life," said Michael Jacobson, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
In the past two weeks, the FDA has gotten Procter & Gamble and Citrus World Inc. to agree to stop labeling Citrus Hill and Citrus World orange juice from concentrate as "fresh." Ragu Foods Co. has also agreed to drop "Fresh Italian" claims from labels of spaghetti sauce made from tomato concentrate.
An FDA spokesman, Brad Stone, said Mr. Kessler has said he is "concerned" about cholesterol-free claims on foods such as potato chips and corn chips, peanut butter, salad dressing and mayonnaise.
"The logical extension of that is that there seems to be interest in the agency in these products and they could be hearing from us," Mr. Stone said.
Although elevated levels of blood cholesterol have been implicated in coronary heart disease, experts say cholesterol in the diet is only one way to cause high levels of the substance in the bloodstream.
In fact, the amount of cholesterol a person eats has less effect on his or her blood cholesterol than does the amount of fat in the diet, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
The institute recommends that consumers limit their daily fat intake to no more than 25 percent of total calories.
Some mayonnaise has no cholesterol, but contains so much vegetable fat that 90 percent of its calories come from fat. Potato chips claiming to be "cholesterol free" typically provide half their calories from fat.
Mr. Jacobson said Mr. Kessler wouldn't have trouble finding other questionable claims.
"All he has to do is just walk down the supermarket aisle and he'll see them, one after another," he said.