Food Scientists Say Clean Labels Have Trade-Offs in Food Safety

To no surprise, two food safety and nutrition professors at Iowa State University believe there are significant trade-offs in cost and food safety for clean labels. The clean label is one of the most significant trends hitting the food and beverage industry. While there is no clear-cut definition, it is understood that clean label products do not contain additives or preservatives and typically have easy to read ingredients.

Why do Clean Labels Present Issues in Food Safety?

The two food scientists believe that not all food additives and preservatives are bad. Many of those hard-to-pronounce names are used to guard against pathogens and spoiling. While market demand is driving food companies to get rid of these additives, the scientists believe there should be a measured consideration for keeping some of these ingredients. The professors mentioned taking nitrates out of Hotdogs and deli meat as an example since their presence can help prevent clostridium botulinum bacteria.

Professors Ruth MacDonald, Ph.D. and Ruth Litchfield, Ph.D. believes that social media can take a lot of the blame for this hysteria around additives and preservatives. They insist consumers not to believe everything they read on social media and to take a deep dive into any research mentioned in posts.

clean label food safety consumers

How are Clean Labels Costing us More?

Label-readers have become fascinated with the “no high fructose corn syrup”  claim, but they are not looking closely at one is being replaced to sweeten the product. Many times companies are using tapioca syrup which is made from cassava, and typically more expensive. The professors say that the industry is developing all of these “cleaner” syrups like beet syrup, etc. and they are all sugar. They are no better than high-fructose corn syrup.

There seems to be a clear issue with what consumers expect and the reality of ingredients. Consumers want ingredients they understand, they want them cheap, they want them nutritious, they want them safe, and they want them to be beneficial. However, it is almost an impossible feat for food scientists. Consumers are more willing to accept technology in other aspects of their life but have now wholly shifted when it comes to food. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out as consumers become more educated about the science of food.

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Health and Wellness Influencing Food Decisions

Taste, price and convenience are no longer the main factors that help consumers decide which food and beverage to buy. According to a study by Deloitte, Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) called “Capitalizing on the Shifting Consumer Food Value Equation,” about half of the surveyed Americans considered health and wellness, safety, social impact, experience and transparency as “evolving drivers.” These new drivers are examined in addition to traditional factors such as taste, price and convenience. The study also revealed that these new “evolving drivers” play into food decisions regardless of the respondents’ demographics.

consumer values food decisions study

No Artificial Ingredients & Clear Labels Connect Health to Food Safety

Americans are no longer connecting food safety according to only near-term risks to health. Around 74 percent of respondents agreed that food safety should not just be limited to food that can cause immediate harm. Health, wellness, and transparency are all connected to safety which is why food factors including freedom from dangerous ingredients, having clear and accurately made product labels, and the use of non-artificial ingredients should be utilized in describing packaged, processed foods.

“Food retailers are inherently ‘shopper advocates’ and they respect that their customers want both genuine and transparent shopping experiences. Our study sheds light on how companies can better understand the intersection of these new consumer food values and their own growth strategies.” – Mark Baum, Chief Collaboration Officer @ FMI

More Key Insights on Future Food Decisions

Furthermore, the study also addresses several important points regarding the shifting value equation for the industry. According to the results of the survey, the following affect consumer values and food decisions as well.

  • Preferences and tastes of food will continue to fragment
  • Retailers have a unique ability to influence consumers’ decisions
  • New and smaller companies will use new technologies, third-party affiliations, and increase engagement to gain trust.
  • Larger companies in the industry will do all they can to use new, unique value propositions; and market success will be affected by present competitive advantages.

“Today’s consumers have a higher thirst for knowledge than previous generations and they are putting the assessment of that information into their value equation. There is no doubt that the consumer value equation has changed – as taste, price and convenience are now only the foundation with the need to leverage the emerging value drivers. Brands that win with consumers will likely be those that provide the information they seek, well beyond what is on the label.” – Jim Flannery, SVP of Operations & Industry Collaboration @ GMA

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NutriFusion® is Here to Help

Consumer values have been changing over the past ten years, and many companies have tried to seize the opportunity.  Some companies have done an excellent job of creating healthier products, and others have suffered the fate of misleading consumers with health and wellness claims. It’s time to start taking these demands seriously and match your R&D efforts with the value of the future consumer. People have finally connected their health and wellness to food safety. How will you reinvent your products without artificial ingredients and clean labels to enable the consumer to make smart food decisions?


We would like to think that NutriFusion® could be the answer for some of your new products. Instead of fortifying  your packaged foods with synthetic vitamins, you should try our GrandFusion powders. We create non-GMO nutrients from whole fruits and vegetables. So why doesn’t everyone do this? It’s a difficult process and we have made huge advances in our nutrient stabilization method over the past 3 years. NutriFusion® will give you the ability to clean up your ingredient deck and make powerful claims about where your nutrients come from. If you are interested in learning more, please visit your respective category below.