Corn Sugar Confusion

Perhaps you’ve already seen in the news, on Tuesday, the Corn Refiners Association applied to the FDA for permission to refer to High Fructose Corn Syrup as “Corn Sugar” on product ingredient labels.  Thing is, the Oscar Mayer beef franks I bought on Monday have “cultured corn sugar” already listed on their ingredient label.  What gives?!

I placed a call to the Oscar Mayer information hotline to find out.  I spoke with Joe, who answers the phone for Oscar Mayer at a call center “somewhere in the northeastern United States.”  Where exactly, Joe couldn’t tell me “for security purposes.”

I asked Joe about the cultured corn sugar and whether it is the same thing as High Fructose Corn Syrup (henceforth to be referred to as HFCS).  He put me on hold briefly to check, then came back on the line to tell me, yes, it’s the same thing as HFCS, and is added to the meat in liquid form to help keep the product moist, yadda yadda yadda.

“Wait!” I stopped him.  “I want to know why Oscar Mayer is referring to it on their labeling as corn sugar if the Corn Refiners Association just applied for permission to use that terminology on labels on Tuesday, and the FDA is expected to perhaps take up to two years to decide on the matter.”  Joe couldn’t help me with that question.  He offered to escalate the matter, but said that he couldn’t guarantee a response from the company because the company usually only responds to escalated questions when it’s a matter of food allergy concerns.

So, I decided to do a little more digging on the topic myself.  Joe (and apparently Oscar Mayer, a division of Kraft Foods) are misinformed as to what the ingredients on the back of the label actually indicate.  As it turns out, per the FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety, the cultured corn sugar included in Oscar Mayer hot dogs is “corn… sugar cultured with Lactobacillus paracasei subsp. paracasei, Bacillus coagulans LA-1, or Propionibacterium freudenreichii subsp. Shermanii, or mixtures of these microorganisms,” and “For cultured corn sugar, FSIS [Food Safety Inspection Service] believes that an appropriate ingredient name that is consistent with 21 CFR 184.1857 is ‘cultured corn sugar’ or ‘cultured dextrose.’”  Furthermore, “Any further questions regarding use in meat and poultry products should be directed to Dr. John Hicks, Jr., Director, Risk Management Division, Office of Policy and Program Development,1400 Independence Ave., S.W., Room 3549, South Agriculture Building, Washington, DC 20250-3700. The telephone number for that office is (202) 205-0210 and the telefax is (202) 720-0582.”

Moreover, in a different posting, the FDA defines corn syrup as dextrose, and has done so since 1976–thereby indicating that the Corn Refiners Association application ought to be easily denied and refuted as misinformation and propaganda.

As far as I can tell, no public comment period has yet started regarding the Corn Refiners’ Association application for a name change to HFCS, but I find it somewhat confusing and perplexing that a different product is already being referred to as corn sugar on product labels.  As the nomenclature is confusing to the product manufacturer already, I believe that the Corn Refiners Association is setting the public up for perplexion.  I’m not quite sure what I can do about it… apart from contacting Dr. Hicks, Jr. and asking him as to whether the office of Policy and Program Development might weigh in on the potential consumer confusion that could result should the corn refiners get their way.

56 Responses to “Corn Sugar Confusion”

  1. Rob R. Says:

    I should have paid more attention in Chemistry class.

    Why does the question go to a risk management person? BTW: That’s a rhetorical question.

    I work in the area of risk management and I’m glad my employer doesn’t post my name on websites as the point of contact.

  2. Rho Says:

    Just wanted to let you know I refered to this post in my own anti-corn sweetener blog, Maize Maze. Thank you for letting me help more people find their way out of it.

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  4. William Drummond Says:

    I just had fun with this myself. My wife bought me some Oscar Meyer Carving Board Ham and was just looking to make sure that it didn’t have HFCS or Dextrose in it as it messes me up. Well I ate some of it and then the symptoms kicked in about 15 minutes later. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me and was starting to get panicky. You see, those 2 products make me crave nicotine and makes me feel like I am starving and no matter how much I eat the craving for nicotine and food will not go away. BTW, I quit smoking 4 years ago. So here I sit, nauseous, hungry and wanting a smoke. The corn growers association and all the corporations that keep trying to trick us need to be held accountable for this and to make it all stop.

  5. Elizabeth Lyons Says:

    Corn sugar is a popular ingredient for homebrewers - makes a great carbonation sugar. As an amateur homebrewer, I was pretty pissed off to hear of the HFCS’ proposed renaming.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Full disclosure: I work for a company that concerns itself with this topic, but am posting this comment as a person who is watching his diet closely, not as an employee on behalf of my employer.

    Apparently, it’s added in very small concentrations for shelf life, not to make you fat or crave nicotine.

    Really, to me, the meat products mentioned in this write up… they’re not the issue when it comes to corn sweeteners. These are not particularly sweet/caloric products, nor are they even close to the same realm as HFCS products when it comes to obesity implications.

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  8. Seraffa Says:

    Thank you for telling us that. Normally I have many sugar intolerances and ate the Oscar Meyer products because I can’t have nitrates at all in any of my meats — and I’m on a really low, hot-dog type of budget in order to survive. I’m not suffering from any adverse effects of the sugar whether it is corn syrup or cultured corn sugar, but I can definitely say my craving for carbs at certain times of the day is back because of its presence in the food. I also have to watch for IBS. Maybe they really are using the culured sugar solution! They might even go so far as to tout it later as “better for people”. But its not “better” for me if it increases my carb cravings and I’m trying my best to low-carb. Why can’t all the soduim solutions they preserve the meats with take care of the whole issue????? They already have “cherry powder” included in the hot dogs! Stupid @$@%-ing corn growers association…..let them go live off their ethanol royalties cos those bastards are GREEDY.

  9. Zebe Pearsall Says:

    Please do more research, do your best to not eat processed meats like Oscar Mayers. They have additives to preserve the meats–to keep them from becoming rancid during their very long shelf life. If microorganisms will not eat them, then what does that say about the intelligence of organisms that eat such processed garbage?
    We are in a health crisis in this country because of processed foods.
    Love your children enough to not give them hot-dogs. The cheapness will never make up for the health damage.
    Thanks for the opportunity to express my ideas.
    Check out the sponsors for the American Dietetic Association:

  10. jodisattva Says:

    i find it interesting that you are concerned with high fructose corn syrup but don’t seem aware of how dangerous processed meats are, period. Not only the nitrates, which have been proven to significantly raise cancer risk, but the meat itself–any factory-farmed, commercially-processed meat is a horrible excuse for food, for reasons too numerous to mention here. While you’re doing your investigation of the conspiracies around the corn syrup industry, pick up a copy of The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, or any of his books. We must center our diets around 100% whole, organic foods in order to be healthy and avoid the plague of disease that is taking out the majority of the population and forcing them to rely on pharmaceuticals to manage the symptoms caused by poor diet.

  11. cindi Says:

    “Joe (and apparently Oscar Mayer, a division of Kraft Foods) are misinformed as to what the ingredients on the back of the label actually indicate.”

    Joe could be right; the FDA regulations you cited simply state that if it says cultured corn sugar on the label it’s SUPPOSED to mean a that product contains no more than 4.8% corn sugar cultured with Lactobacillus paracasei subsp. paracasei, Bacillus coagulans LA-1, or Propionibacterium freudenreichii subsp. Shermanii, or mixtures of these microorganisms.

    That doesn’t necessarily mean that Kraft/Oscar Mayer is using the term cultured corn sugar correctly. I would hazard a guess that they aren’t since 1) I had never seen that ingredient on any ingredient list prior to the CRA trying rehabilitate the image of HFCS with their commercial campaign and their request to the FDA to change its name & 2) since there is so much bad press about HFCS you would think that the first thing Kraft/Oscar Mayer would drum into their customer service people who answer questions to the public would be “Is cultured corn sugar the same thing as HFCS? NO!!!, cultured corn sugar is corn sugar cultured with Lactobacillus paracasei subsp. paracasei, Bacillus coagulans LA-1, or Propionibacterium freudenreichii subsp. Shermanii, or mixtures of these microorganisms; if you want to double-check, see the FDA’s ruling on cultured corn sugar. The FDA specifically state that in order to list that on the ingredients the product must contain no more than 4.8% of the above.” That sounds like a pretty big goof on the training department of Kraft/Oscar Mayer unless they’re using the term inproperly and have trained their customer service reps to be evasive but honest (”don’t tell them unless they ask the specific question worded just right, but if they do ask it; don’t lie).

    Personally when Joe mentioned that the company only responds to escalated matters that involve food allergies, I would said that it did because you are allergic to HFCS. An allergy is simply an adverse reaction to a substance & and your description of how you react to HFCS certainly fits that.

  12. Rhonda Says:

    High frutose corn syrup gives me hives, swelling, and itchiness. It’s important that I know what is in my food. I can tolerate some evaporate cane juice. I bought the Oscar Myers wieners for Labor Day hoping they weren’t HFCS. Thanks for the info

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Not sure if this has been resolved, but I just came across this post and need to shed light on it. CCS has very little to do with HFCS. Yes CCS is made from dextrose and there tends to be some residual fructose and other minor sugars, but CCS is actually fermented dextrose. Fermentation via one of the bacteria strains mentioned in a previous post will create a new product. So using Lactobacillus paracasei to ferment the sugar will create mostly Lactic Acid with very little sugar remaining. The reason it can still be called CCS instead of its product is because it isn’t purified after this step. Most chemicals when produced will then be distilled or filtered to remove the bacteria and such, but for CCS this process does not happen. Without the use of distillation the sample can still retain it’s ‘natural’ title.

    For better or worse, people like things with natural labels. Personally, I would want the purified and filtered stuff compared to raw chemical. I do handle conc. CCS (96% acid) on a daily basis and probably wouldn’t eat meat that this stuff was put on. It is mainly used as a ‘natural’ preservative. But I would take a corn based preservative over a petroleum based preservative any day. Watch out for your benzoates and propionates!

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