Frequently Asked Questions

How do consumers know that flavors used in their foods and beverages are safe?

Nothing is more important to flavor manufacturers than the safety of the ingredients in our food.  Before any new flavor substances are used in consumer products, they are evaluated for their safety by an independent panel of experts that publishes its findings and shares the results with the United States Food and Drug Administration.

The great majority of the substances reviewed by the FEMA Expert Panel also have been evaluated by other scientific bodies, including the United Nations/ World Health Organization Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), the European Food Safety Authority, and the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. In addition, the FEMA Expert Panel periodically and routinely re-evaluates the safety of flavorings, using the most up-to-date science.

What is the FEMA Expert Panel?

The Expert Panel of the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA) has served as the primary body for the safety evaluation of food flavorings for the flavor industry, and the public through its “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) assessment of flavoring substances for over fifty years. Flavoring substances are determined to be GRAS by the FEMA Expert Panel pursuant to the authority granted in Section 201(s) of the U.S. Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which is administered by the FDA.

The FEMA GRAS™ assessment program continually incorporates the latest scientific advances for evaluating the safety of flavoring substances. The Expert Panel has operated continuously since it was first appointed in 1960. The Expert Panel’s primary goal is to ensure that flavoring substances added to foods are safe for their intended use — the conclusions of the Expert Panel on GRAS status apply only to the use of a flavoring substance in food. The Expert Panel is comprised of experts in the fields of chemistry, toxicology, pharmacology, medicine, pathology, and statistics; all are also experts in flavor safety assessment.

The flavor industry takes great pains to ensure the independence of the panel’s work. Panel members do not know the identity of companies seeking FEMA GRAS™ status for their flavorings. The Expert Panel determines its own agenda, develops its own safety standards, informs the Food and Drug Administration of its GRAS determinations, and publishes its findings.

What is “GRAS”?

“GRAS” is an acronym for the phrase Generally Recognized As Safe. Under Section 201(s) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act), any substance that is intentionally added to food is a food additive, that is subject to premarket review and approval by FDA, unless the substance is generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of its intended use, or unless the use of the substance is otherwise excluded from the definition of a food additive. (From the FDA’s definition of “GRAS”).

What is the FEMA GRASTM Program?

The FEMA GRAS Program is the longest running and most admired industry GRAS program.  Under authority granted by the United States Congress, the FEMA Expert Panel has been evaluating the safety of flavoring substances for more than 50 years under the auspices of the FEMA GRASTM Program and has earned the respect of governmental agencies in the United States and around the world.  Consumers should feel comfortable with the independence of the FEMA GRASTM Program’s findings, as they are not the only scientific safety evaluations that flavoring substances undergo.  The vast majority of substances determined to be safe under conditions of intended use through the FEMA GRASTM Program have also been submitted to other international regulatory bodies for review.  Additionally, the FEMA Expert Panel periodically and routinely carries out re-evaluations of FEMA GRASTM substances.  Learn more about the FEMA GRASTM program here.

What Is A Natural Flavor?

Natural flavors are ingredients that come from natural sources such as a spice, fruit, or vegetable.  They can even come from herbs, barks, roots, or similar plant materials.  Natural flavors also come from meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.  Flavors are only used to add taste to foods; they are not nutritional.

If something is labeled as “natural flavor” it must fit the definition of “natural flavor.”  Different countries define what it means for a flavor to be considered “natural.”  In the United States, both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have definitions of “natural flavor” in their regulations.

What Is An Artificial Flavor?

Quite simply, artificial flavors are flavorings that don’t meet the definition of natural flavor.

There isn’t much difference in the chemical compositions of natural and artificial flavorings.  What is different is the source.  For example, an artificial strawberry flavor may contain the same individual substances as a natural one, but the ingredients come from a source other than a strawberry.

Based on “What is the difference between artificial and natural flavors?” by Gary Reineccius, Professor, Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota, in Scientific American (July 29, 2002).