Scroll Top

California’s Bold Move in Food Safety Regulation

Screenshot 2024-04-21 at 12.10.00 PM

In a significant step towards enhancing food safety, California has once again positioned itself at the forefront of state-level regulatory action with the recent enactment of the California House Bill 418, or the California Food Safety Act. Signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in October, the law introduces stringent restrictions on the use of four specific chemical additives in food products: Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO), Potassium Bromate, Propylparaben, and Red Dye No. 3. This initiative underlines a broader trend where states are proactively setting regulatory standards that surpass federal guidelines.

Each of these additives has been commonly used in the food industry and carries potential health risks, ranging from carcinogenic concerns to neurological effects. Notably, a fifth substance, titanium dioxide, was almost included but was ultimately excluded from the bill at the eleventh hour due to unresolved debates over its risk profile when used according to industry standards.

The passage of HB 418 has polarized opinions. While food safety and consumer advocacy groups have lauded the bill, it has faced strong opposition from federal regulators and food industry trade groups. Critics, like the National Confectioners Association (NCA), argue that California’s action disrupts the uniformity of national food safety systems and could lead to increased food costs due to a patchwork of inconsistent state regulations.

This controversy echoes the ongoing discourse surrounding other chemicals like Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS), known as “forever chemicals,” which are still regulated under certain conditions by the FDA but face stricter state-level bans, including in California. This lack of uniformity complicates compliance for food brands, which must navigate varying regulations across state lines, impacting everything from product formulation to supply chain management.

Moreover, the method of prohibition—via state legislation rather than through the detailed rule-making processes typical of the FDA—has been another focal point of contention. Proponents of traditional FDA methods argue that California’s legislative approach lacks the predictability and scientific rigor of federal processes. This debate intensified when, in a victory for the bill’s opponents, titanium dioxide was removed from HB 418 after the American Chemistry Association’s Titanium Dioxide Stewardship Council criticized the bill for politicizing food safety.

Amidst these regulatory shifts, the FDA’s recent proposal to revoke the use of BVO due to safety concerns further complicates the landscape, signaling potential changes in federal standards as well.

Looking forward, with HB 418 set to take effect in January 2027, food brands face a tight timeline to reformulate products and overhaul their supply chains. This transition involves significant logistical challenges, including sourcing new ingredients, adjusting manufacturing protocols, and updating product labels.

California’s aggressive stance on ingredient safety regulation is not limited to food; the state has also expanded restrictions on chemicals used in cosmetics, illustrating a broader commitment to public health across various consumer products.

As the food industry braces for a dynamic regulatory environment, the gap between state and federal standards, particularly with contrasting approaches in the EU, underscores the growing complexity of compliance. For manufacturers, staying ahead in this evolving landscape will likely necessitate a flexible and well-informed compliance strategy moving forward.