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January 12, 2014

Consumer Reports: Food fake-out

Have you ever bought something “buttery” only to find that it contains no butter? How about a product with fruit pictured on the label but no fruit inside?

Consumer Reports’ local shopping expedition and its Facebook fans turned up these examples of food fake outs. It asked companies to explain the connections, but most either didn’t respond or were vague.

• McCormick Bac’n Pieces. Bac’n bits have no meat. They’re a blend of soy flour, canola oil, salt, caramel color, maltodextrin (a thickener or filler), natural and artificial flavors, lactic acid, yeast extract, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate (flavor enhancers), and red food dye. On the other hand, they are cholesterol-free.

• International Delight Gourmet Coffee Creamer. “The taste of melted ice cream (from Cold Stone Creamery) in your coffee” the label teases. “Pour it on, buckle up and blast off to the sweet ‘n creamy stratosphere.” If you’re expecting a dollop of melted ice cream, you’re in for a hard landing. The Food and Drug Administration insists that real ice cream contain at least 10 percent milk fat. This creamer is mostly water, sugar and palm oil.

• Wise Onion Rings. “Packed with delicious, real onion flavor!” the label says. But these rings bear little resemblance to batter-dipped, deep-fried onion slices. The top three (of 18) ingredients: corn starch, tapioca starch and vegetable oil. There are also four food colorings, one of them blue. As for real onions, a company rep said there aren’t any. These are onion-flavored rings, she noted, with a seasoning that includes garlic powder, paprika and onion powder. It’s applied to the rings after they’re cooked.

• Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats Blueberry. The box pictures blueberries, but the ingredients show no evidence of actual fruit. They include whole-grain wheat, sugar, corn ... and red and blue food coloring. A Kellogg’s consumer affairs specialist acknowledged the lack of blueberries, saying the cereal gets its flavor from a “confidential and proprietary” blend of natural and artificial flavors. Under FDA labeling rules, the company doesn’t have to be any more specific than that.

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