Product Labeling and Brand Honesty: Do You Know What’s in Your Food?

I recently came across an article in the Yahoo! Finance section titled “Coca-Cola Says it Alerted FDA About Fungicide.” If the article concerned a brand I don’t use, then I may have skipped it. But because I’m an avid Coca-Cola drinker and somebody mentioned fungicide, I knew I had to read the article, and upon completing it I was shocked and appalled.

To sum it up for you, apparently Coca-Cola did some testing (of its own products and those of competitors) and they found low-levels of fungicide in orange products shipped from Brazil. Not a big deal, right? WRONG! About 40% of orange juice and orange juice products in the U.S. are imported from Brazil. I’m shocked that they would allow the distribution and consumption of a product to young and old knowing there is a chemical there that’s not supposed to be (regardless of the amounts)!

Here’s where it gets interesting. The fungicide they found is called carbendazim, and here are a few facts about it, straight from the EPA:

  • In the U.S, carbendazim is approved as fungicide in paints, adhesives, textiles, and ornamental trees. [Yet we are drinking it — something sounds very wrong here.]
  • It is not approved for use on foods in the U.S.
  • [This recent] risk assessment shows that there is no public health concern from drinking orange juice containing carbendazim at reported levels.

In the U.S, carbendazim is approved for non-edibles like paints, adhesives, textiles, and ornamental trees.

In the U.S, carbendazim is approved for non-edibles like paints, adhesives, textiles, and ornamental trees.

So, this fungicide is not approved for citrus in the U.S., but it’s used in other countries to treat crops infected with fungal diseases like rot, mold, and mildew. Brazil farmers had been spraying their orange trees with the fungicide. But don’t worry, the EPA and the World Health Organization claim that risks are high only if large doses are consumed. What does that even mean? What is a “large” dose? My daughter drinks orange juice EVERY DAY! Is that considered a large dose? What are the side effects of large doses? Why is this even in our food/drinks? The EPA did release a PDF with more toxicity details, but it wasn’t very reassuring. I was appalled at myself and the fact that I’m not nearly as aware as I should be of what is in the food I’m consuming. Now I tend to be much more diligent in the food my daughter consumes mainly because she’s a toddler and I don’t want anything going into her body that isn’t supposed to be there or meant to help her. I was hysterical after reading this, and due to this news I switched her to a U.S. brand of OJ (after careful research in how it’s grown and treated in the growing process and what is in it after production, of course).

Coca-Cola won’t admit if their products were among the test results containing fungicide (they produce the Minute Maid brand of orange juice). However, consumers are pushing for companies to push warning and acknowledgements that these products are in the food/drink they are consuming. Of course, nobody wants to do this because it hurts the brand (and we all know we can’t have that). If you hurt the brand, you hurt the revenue and that’s a “no-no” in the business world. But as it is, the morning this article was published Coca-Cola shares dropped $0.40 and Pepsi shares dropped $0.28.

Suddenly, these don't look so appetizing...

Suddenly, these don’t look so appetizing…

Now, I’m not one to be aggressively “pro-this” or “anti-that,” but this article really got me thinking. I’m not from Brazil; I live in the U.S. and was born and raised here so I only know the health concerns immediately affecting us. The fungicide was banned in the U.S. for a reason (whatever that may be), and due to many different factors it was received as more of a negative response than a positive, and therefore its use in food and drink was stopped. Any person living anywhere is going to have a certain immune system built up to the sickness and issues of that given area, but just because it doesn’t prove to be a threat in Brazil doesn’t mean it is not a threat to Americans. We don’t have the same immunities as Brazilians do. We live in different climates with different issues and different threats. So there is no reason to assume if it doesn’t pose a threat to them it won’t pose a threat to us. Right?

Granted, this is not the first time in history something like this has happened, and I’m certain it won’t be the last. I’ve noticed an insurgence of the “Buy American” movement in the wake of this orange juice problem, and more people are now buying food, drink, and other American-made products instead of imported. The idea is that an American-made product follows the rules and regulations (hopefully) of our country and ensures some sense of safety and good health. Well, I’m all for that!

Do you really pay attention to everything you consume? What side of the fence are you on? Should brands like Coca-Cola be required to label their products accordingly?

Candice Jones

Candice is on the web team at QLP. She's extremely family-oriented and enjoys spending all of her free time with her daughter and family. She LOVES to shop and just experience life again through her daughter's eyes. There's nothing better than that in the world for her! You can also connect with Candice on Google+


  1. Eric

    EH…it’s a slippery slope. We likely get our oranges here for as long as we’re able, in-season, but once Florida starts getting a frost, we’ve got to go elsewhere. I’m sure we could strive towards higher standards and stricter limitations on our produce, possibly only using domestic sources for it, but the product would come at a premium and we’d pay dearly for it. Truthfully, I’ll take my chances with the oranges or any other produce. Give it a good rinse (believe they even sell a special veggie/fruit rinse at specialty home goods stores) and more likely than not the threat’s gone for the most part. I’d be more leery of all the products we use and consume whose names have multiple syllables and more consonants than they do vowels.

    Never thought about buying American as a way of maintaining higher food safety standards, but it’s a sure bet. There are things legal to sell and eat in Canada, etc. that the United States simply won’t allow because of the risk or possibility of a health hazard. We’re far more strict here with our food that the majority of other countries.

    Interesting stuff, Candice. I’ll probably pay a little more attention to where my produce is coming from!

    • Candice J.

      I didn’t really think of “buying American” until I read this article. I’m not really a huge fan of organic or this or that but having a child made me completely change my outlook. Now I know that’s sort of bad because I should be concerned with my health as well, but I’m an adult. I’ve lived 24 years eating this stuff so I’m not freaking out over me. But my daughter has only been eating solid non-organic table food for around 7 months. Her body isn’t used to the things I am and her immune system isn’t as strong as mine. It just raised my awareness as a consumer about what is really being marketed to us and what is in the things I bring into my home.

  2. Mandy Kilinskis

    I should probably pay better attention to what I eat. Usually I check the label for calories and sugars, and decide from there. I haven’t read every ingredient and then researched where products come from. I still probably won’t do that with everything, but I’m definitely going to try a little harder to make sure my produce is safe.

    • Candice J.

      I was the EXACT same way! And I will try to be more aware when I shop for myself but I know I have no other choice to be pro-active as a consumer when it comes to what my daughter eats.

  3. Rachel

    Yeahhh, I don’t pay nearly enough attention to the ingredients in the foods I eat, let alone what pesticides and fungicides are used in the growing process. Not to mention, Minute Maid is my favorite brand of orange juice, so if they found harmful things in it I’d be really bummed. 🙁

    All this reminds me of some of the books I read for a class in college about the food industry … there are definitely lots of things in our food and drink we don’t know about. Interesting post, Candice!

    • Candice J.

      Why thank you Rachel! I switched my daughter off Minute Maid Orange Juice just for the time being while I do more research. That was her favorite too so she was very bummed out let me tell you! I feel like food shopping should not be this difficult.

  4. Jen

    I buy Flordias natural orange juice because it’s 100% American grown oranges. But who is to say the growers in FL don’t use a pesticide or fungicide that could be potentially harmful to us? It wont be an “issue” until someone gets sick. You could be that someone or I could be that someone. We just don’t know. Unless you grow and harvest your own fruits and veggies, how are you going to know 100% what chemicals are being used…we could easily get sick from American grown produce too. I’m not trying to sound anti-American, I’m just being honest.

    Buying local from farmers markets is a great alternative to supermarkets, it helps the local economy and the produce is a lot fresher.

    Great post Candice, it’s alarming to say the least, but it’s better to be aware.

    • Candice J.

      Since we aren’t at the farms with the farmers growing the oranges we will never know 100%. The only thing that we can rely on is that the pesticide and fungicide that shows harm to us has been banned and deemed illegal in the US for any use on citrus products. But like the age old saying goes, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” But it does make me a more conscious consumer about what I’m buying and where I’m buying it from.

  5. Jill Tooley

    This is scary stuff. I think I’m more alarmed by what the EPA isn’t saying as opposed to what they’re saying about it. For example, the wording on the PDF says something like “the analyses are based on the assumption that 100% of orange juice in the US food supply contains carbendazim residues at the given levels” and “the lifetime cancer risk for the general US population is below HED’s level of concern.”

    So…I’m supposed to be reassured by the “assumption” that the supply doesn’t have more than the allowed levels? Since when do we determine things like this based on assumptions? Crazy. And who are they to say what the “level of concern” is? As you said, what about your youngster who doesn’t have a tolerance built up to stuff like this yet? They seem to be talking in jargon when they should be explaining it in black and white terms.

    All we can really do is our best and keep our ears perked…it’s SO hard to scout for every single little thing nowadays. 🙁

    • Candice J.

      I feel the same way! I doubt the people making these documents and assumptions are drinking this stuff! I feel like when it comes to the health and safety concern of anyone it should be black and white. I mean either its good for us or its not. Its not kinda good but sorta bad. If its not a good chemical and does more harm then good then stop using it! Ok so someone down the line has to do more work, BIG DEAL! I’d rather be healthy and alive and one more person is less than 1% more tired because of the work they had to do than to be unhealthy or dead so someone can be lazy. Its just a scary world we are starting to live in.

  6. Jaimie Smith

    I will be completely honest, I NEVER pay attention to what is in the things that I eat. I usually never know unless I am eating with someone and they are like “You know whats in that right?” and I usually just say no and keep eating it. But after this post maybe I should be a little more careful.
    Nice post Candice, very informative!

    • Candice J.

      I pretty much know what i’m eating unless I don’t want to know. Like hot dogs and bologna, I don’t know whats in them and I don’t ever want to know. People can take that information to the grave with them. Articles like this do exactly what they are supposed to do so at least I can thank them for sparking the fire in my mind to become more aware as a consumer.

  7. Jeff Porretto

    You know…. I’m probably in the minority, but I just don’t care what’s in my food. I know I should, but I just don’t. When some heavy smokers live to be 100, and some totally health conscious people drop dead at 35, I guess I’ve just decided to take my chances…

    Nice post though!

    • Candice J.

      Listen here Jeff, I’m pretty much banking on you being my boss forever. With that said you better start being more aware of what your eating other than chocolate mister! You know just glance at the ingredients every once in a while. Be like, “oh look, that contains lead probably shouldn’t eat that!” And if you don’t, well I’m going to tell your wife so there!

      • Jeff Porretto

        My wife doesn’t care either! We’ve never once even talked about ingredients. Calories? Fat? Maybe sometimes. But ingredients? Never. Now if there was lead in something I’d hope it be listed in BIG BOLD LETTERS. Yeah, I’d probably want to know about that. Maybe I’ll just do a once a decade check of all the foods I regularly eat. But that would be my maximum effort =]

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