Tomato Sauce Scam

Labels on some popular grocery store pizza, pasta and other tomato sauces aren’t always what they seem. Consumer groups are onto this Food Identity Theft deception, and news outlets are reporting the scam.
These suspicious products mislead consumers with claims like “Made from California Vine-ripened Tomatoes” implying they are made from fresh tomatoes.

But in fact the products are made using reconstituted industrial tomato concentrate--tomato paste and added water. Tomato sauce remanufactured from concentrate is a highly processed food that’s cheaper to make and more profitable for companies who are trying to pass off the stuff as the real thing.

Culprits include some of the biggest names in the industry including Del Monte, Contadina, and Classico.

The only way for consumers to avoid getting cheated is to carefully check the ingredient label on the back of the package. The first ingredient should be Tomatoes. If the first few ingredients are water and tomato paste, or tomato puree (made from water and tomato paste), the product is likely remanufactured from concentrate.

Here are some examples of deceptive labeling:

Del Monte Seafood Cocktail Sauce claims on the front of the package “Made from California Vine-ripened Tomatoes” when, in fact, it is made from concentrate. An image of a vine-ripened tomato appears directly below the claim. But a close examination of the ingredient list reveals that the product is really made from water and tomato paste, not fresh tomatoes.

The front label of Contadina Pizza Sauce shows a picture of vine-ripened tomatoes and a tomato field and the term “ROMA STYLE TOMATOES” appears below the Contadina brand name.

The back of the package states “Contadina picks the Freshest Tomatoes,” and “Our vine-ripened Roma style tomatoes are grown to a rich red color before picking...”

The product, in fact, is made from water and processed tomato paste.

Let’s also take a look at this Classico Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce label. The front label says “Traditional Favorites” and the back label explains “In colorful Naples, pasta sauces are pure and simple, with ripe, red tomatoes and a hint of basil. Here that spirit of simplicity has inspired the perfect sauce for any meal occasion.”

But Classico pasta sauce is anything but “traditional” or “simple.” It is primarily made from processed tomato paste and water.

What does the label of a real tomato sauce product look like? One example is from Eden Organic Pizza Pasta Sauce whose label states that it is made from (organic) Roma Tomatoes.

Note that that first ingredient is “tomatoes,” and not tomato puree.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could clear things up for consumers by requiring companies that sell pizza, pasta, and other tomato sauces reconstituted with water to state on the front label “From Concentrate.” That disclosure would help protect consumers and level the playing field. The FDA already requires “From Concentrate” disclosures on the labels of fruit and vegetable juices that are reconstituted. That requirement simply needs to be extended to all fruit and vegetable products made from concentrate like the ones illustrated here.

But until the FDA takes further action, consumers need to be label detectives and read the fine print.