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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has no role in approving food products before they hit store shelves, though it can approve food and color additives before they are used in food.
The Hostess Twinkie, a cream-filled sponge cake that’s been a staple of school lunch boxes for generations, was once rumored to last a lifetime because of its long list of chemical ingredients.
Although that myth has been disproved — the company said Twinkies have a shelf life of about 45 days — social media users are still spreading misinformation about the sweet snacks.
"Vitamins aren’t FDA approved, but Twinkies are!" read an April 4 Facebook post. "How’s that for perspective."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
The post is correct in stating that vitamins aren’t approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Those products don’t require preapproval before going to market, although the FDA retains regulatory authority over them.
But the post misleads by stating that the FDA approves Twinkies.
The FDA has no role in approving food products before they go to market. It does have regulatory authority over them after they hit store shelves, with the exception of meat, poultry, certain processed egg products and catfish, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
That means the FDA can conduct inspections, issue food recalls and take actions when safety issues arise, such as when it entered an agreement with Abbott to reopen a baby formula plant in Michigan that closed amid safety concerns last year.
That means the sugary sponge cakes are not FDA-approved, as the Facebook post claims.
However, the FDA does have the power to approve certain ingredients, such as food and color additives for use in food.
Companies that want to add new food additives must provide the FDA with information showing them to be safe, according to an FDA website page. The agency would then review tests done by the companies to ensure the additive is safe for its intended use. Additives must be "used in compliance with its approved uses, specifications, and restrictions," the FDA said.
Some additives that are considered "generally recognized as safe" for their intended use don’t require FDA approval.
The ingredients in Twinkies have likely changed since they were first invented at an Illinois bakery in 1930. A look at the cakes’ ingredients shows many food additives that at one point would have required approval by the FDA for use in food products but are now generally considered safe.
The Twinkie contains about three dozen ingredients, many of them food additives such as dextrose, which is for sweetening and other uses, and sodium acid pyrophosphate, a leavening agent often used in baked goods.
Concerned label readers (are you really concerned if you’re about to eat a Twinkie?) can search an FDA database to find out what those additives are used for and how those ingredients comply with regulations.
A Facebook post that says the FDA doesn’t approve vitamins but did approve the Twinkie has an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
The FDA does not approve vitamins before they go on the market, and the agency does have a role in approving food additives used in the snack. But the FDA does not sign off on food products overall; it maintains regulatory authority over both vitamins and food once they’re on the market.
The claim is Mostly False.
Facebook post, April 4, 2023
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, "Is It Really 'FDA Approved'?," May 10, 2022
FDA database, "Substances Added to Food," accessed April 6, 2023
FDA, "What does FDA regulate?" accessed April 6, 2023
Hostess, Twinkies nutrition information, accessed April 6, 2023
National Archives, "Title 21: PART 182 - Substances generally recognized as safe," accessed April 5, 2023
NBC News, "If you thought Twinkies lasted a long time before, you ain't seen nothing yet," July 9, 2013
Food & Wine, "Scientists are examining some long-expired Twinkies to see what's wrong with them," Oct. 16, 2020
Penn State University, "SiOWfa16: Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy: Do Twinkies last forever?"
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