Where’s the Fresh Tomatoes?

Last week, the National Consumers League (NCL) called on the FDA to warn food manufacturers that they may be violating federal law by using tomato sauce product labels that suggest that fresh-picked tomatoes are in their tomato sauce when in fact their products are mainly from concentrate.

NCL cited several examples. Example 1:


Here, the label suggests that the product is just ripe red tomatoes and basil, when in fact the first two ingredients are water and tomato paste.

A spokesperson for Heinz responded to NCL’s charges, saying:

“We are surprised by the NCL’s claim that Classico Tomato & Basil pasta sauce is not made from ripe, red tomatoes. The two primary ingredients in are tomato puree and diced tomatoes, both of which are made from ripe, red tomatoes that are picked and processed at the peak of freshness.”

Example 2:


In this case, the front of the jar shows fresh tomatoes, but the ingredients show that it only has water and tomato paste as the primary ingredients, not even diced tomatoes as some other brands do.

Example 3:


In this case, the front label says “Roma style tomatoes” and shows fresh vine-rippened tomatoes, while the back says “Our vine-ripened Roma style tomatoes are grown to a rich red color before picking…” This product too is made from just water and tomato paste.

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11 thoughts on “Where’s the Fresh Tomatoes?”

  1. Maybe the National Consumer League should be concerned about something that is important. I think that anyone with half a brain would not confuse tomatoes with tomato sauce. It would be a real great label to have just a picture of a bowl of tomato puree on it. For all you would know from that picture is that the contents are some sort of red sauce. As far as the description of the sauce, I see nothing wrong with mentioning vine ripened tomatoes and basil. Just because there is water in the mix, it has to be listed. I’m am by no means a cook, but if you were to make tomato sauce at home, would you add any water to your recipe? Would you tell your family that you actually added water?

    My Mott’s applesauce has the audacity to actually show an apple on it label, as I’m sure almost any other canned product would show the contents in the original (unprocessed) state.

    Who funds the National Consumer League? If it a a federal program, maybe it would be a good candidate for a budget cut.

    My opinion is that this is a non-issue.

  2. The only thing I would question is how did they make the tomato paste that goes into the ingredients. If it’s from the tomatoes listed and shown on the package, then I have no problems with it. But if it’s from tomatoes of questionable quality (i.e. not vine ripened), then I have a problem with the packaging.

  3. The fact that these sauces are made from puree instead of fresh tomatoes should not be considered wrong. My mother made her own tomato sauce “from scratch” and she also used tomato puree and water. Hey NCL, did you ever stop to think that maybe the freshly picked off the vine tomatoes are in the puree? Just think about it.

  4. Do we need to draw the NCL a diagram of how tomato puree and tomato paste is made? Or am I missing something?

  5. I have to admit that I think this is a bit over the top as well. It would be different if the companies were using partially ripe tomatoes and copious amounts of red food color to make the tomato paste look appetizing but none of the labels list food color as an ingredient.

  6. I grow my own fresh tomatoes and make a puree out of them for my pasta sauces. Does this mean my pasta sauces are not made from fresh tomatoes? You cant just boil fresh tomatoes and make spaghetti sauce. It has to be strained and cooked down to a puree. Ask any home cook.

  7. I have to disagree with most of the comments. If you make tomato sauce starting with tomato paste, you’re being deceptive when you imply that you use fresh tomatoes because you are not. If you start with fresh tomatoes, you don’t have to cook the puree down to a paste and then add water to make it back into a puree, you stop cooking them when you reach the right consistency. I’ve made sauce from home grown tomatoes. These big companies exaggerate to trick busy people who are trying to make the right choices into buying their processed food. I would guess Edgar is trying to point out the exaggerations that they make so we can all be watchful for them because they are everywhere.

  8. It’s not quite the same difference between freshly-squeezed and frozen-concentrate orange juice. As mitaliano has pointed out, tomato puree is a necessary intermediate step along the way from sun-ripened tomato to pasta sauce. Frozen concentrate isn’t a necessary intermediate step between sun-kissed orange and orange juice which justifies appropriate labeling. Not so for pasta sauce.

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