- TikTok’s viral Pink Sauce has been sold across the country for $20 a bottle.
- Complaints have emerged about both food quality and inaccuracies found on the food label, putting into question whether we should be buying food online from small businesses.
- The FDA dictates a set of rules companies need to comply with when selling food products across state lines.
If you keep up with TikTok trends, you likely already know about the viral Pink Sauce and its controversy. If not, here’s a rundown:
- A chef based in Miami, Florida, created what she calls Pink Sauce, a sauce made of sunflower seed oil, honey, chili, garlic and dragon fruit.
- The sauce went viral on TikTok, which led to an online retail operation.
- Customers complained of damaged packaging and rancid batches of sauce.
- The nutrition label incorrectly stated that one bottle contained over 400 servings.
- While the food label says the product contains milk, the packaging did not call for refrigeration or feature an expiration date, which poses a risk of food-borne illness.
Now, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating the product. If the manufacturer, known as Chef Pī, is found to be guilty of misbranding or if her product is a direct cause of somebody getting sick, she may be subject to legal penalties.
Ultimately, Chef Pī’s pink sauce likely got too big too fast, and she may have skirted some rules.
“[Pink Sauce] highlights the need to be aware of where our foods are coming from and the fact that safety regulations are in place for a reason,” Melissa Azzaro, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian and podcast host at Hormonally Yours, told Verywell.
If you want to buy a food item online, here’s how regulation is supposed to work and what you should know as a consumer.
Rules Apply When Selling Food Across State Lines
Manufacturers of dressings and condiments require FDA food facility registration. If a person wants to start any sort of food business—even just for condiments—they face a slew of requirements, especially if they plan to sell beyond their own state’s borders.
However, there are many exceptions. If you’re participating in a bake sale, you don’t have to comply with FDA regulations. Farmers markets are exempt, as well.
Food trucks and restaurants also do not have to register their meals or ingredients. These retail food establishments are regulated by state and local governments, not the FDA.
Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) regulations require that food offered for sale or introduced into interstate commerce (like the Pink Sauce) be produced under safe and sanitary conditions. Any food items sold between states must include a food label.
Food manufacturers are responsible for developing these labels without being misleading. Proper labeling, including nutrition labeling and labeling for major food allergens, is required for most prepared foods.
“Obviously, the FDA isn’t able to check every food label for accuracy prior to it being sold,” Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN, registered dietitian and cofounder of wellness company MIJA, told Verywell. As such, it is up to the manufacturer to provide accurate information.
The FDA will routinely inspect manufacturers or processors to verify that they comply with relevant regulations. If they find anything wrong, they may remove products from the market. Repercussions for offenders can range from a simple warning letter to criminal prosecution.
How to Safely Buy Food Online
If you find a baked good on Etsy that you want to try or your favorite Instagrammer is selling their homemade BBQ sauce, how can you know if it is safe to consume?
“If buying food products from an independent seller on social media or Etsy, see if the product has an actual website first, which can disclose the ingredients listed in the product and if there is any third party testing or verification,” Koszyk advised.
You can also ask the manufacturer if there is a food label available, or if the facility where the product is developed is registered with the FDA. Just keep in mind that farms, retail food establishments, and restaurants are exempt from food facility registration requirements.
Many online food shops will list licenses in their descriptions if they are available.
For perishable items, confirm that the product you are purchasing is shipped in a climate-controlled method, like using packaging that includes dry ice.
Ultimately, if you buy a food that feels off, trust your gut and toss it.
“Participating in a trend is not worth the risk of digestive distress or food-borne infection,” Azzaro said.
What This Means For You
When purchasing food products online, make sure the food label seems accurate, if there is one. Look for signs of care from the manufacturer, like transparency about where and how the product is made or how the product will be shipped.