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Approval of New Sugar Substitute Is Expected Soon

April 14, 1988|DANIEL P. PUZO | Times Staff Writer

Federal approval of a new artificial sweetener, acesulfame-K, is expected shortly, according to a food industry trade publication.

Begun in 1982, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's scientific review of the sugar substitute's safety is now in its final stages, reports Calorie Control Commentary.

Initial use of acesulfame-K, 200 times sweeter than sugar, will be limited to beverage mixes, gum and as a table-top sweetener.

A product of West Germany's Hoechst Celanese Corp., the sugar substitute should begin appearing in foods by the end of the year, according to the newsletter, which is published by the Calorie Control Council, an Atlanta-based association of manufacturers and suppliers of dietary foods and beverages.

Upon FDA approval, the sweetener will join saccharin and aspartame as a key ingredient in the lucrative low-calorie processed food category. Total sales of artificial sweeteners is placed at $1 billion annually, the bulk of which is generated by aspartame.

Poised to Ask Permission

Hoechst Celanese is also poised to request FDA permission to expand use of the sugar substitute to include baked goods and carbonated soft drinks.

Acesulfame-K is highly regarded by food technologists because it does not disintegrate when heated. Aspartame, trademarked as NutraSweet and Equal, has been limited in its food applications because it does break down when exposed to the high temperatures required for baking or stove-top cooking.

The new sweetener is also expected to be used in combination with both saccharin and/or aspartame. Any such blending would be done because research indicates that the sweeteners measurably enhance each other's flavor profiles. In other words, a mixture of the three is sweeter than the same amount of any one compound standing alone.

Although acesulfame-K is unknown in the United States, it has been used for several years in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, West Germany, Denmark and Belgium, the newsletter states. Acesulfame-K is considered safe, according to the report, because it does not metabolize into the blood stream and is, instead, excreted from the body chemically unchanged. This characteristic has been underscored by successful scientific reviews of the compound conducted by the World Health Organization's Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives and the European Economic Communities' Scientific Committee for Food.

'Greater Choices'

"When approved, acesulfame-K will provide consumers and manufacturers with greater choices," the newsletter stated. "Being able to choose from a wide variety of low-calorie sweeteners allows manufacturers to use the most appropriate sweetener, or combination of sweeteners, for a given product."

The acesulfame-K introduction may be the first of several new artificial sweeteners to receive government approval in the coming year, according to food industry analysts. And one of those pending sugar substitutes is cyclamate, banned 17 years ago because it was a suspected carcinogen. Cyclamate's manufacturer, Abbott Laboratories, has petitioned the FDA to re-examine the sweetener because recent studies seem to show the compound is safe.

What's in a Name?--Sales of the USDA Select grade beef have improved significantly since the federal government renamed this lean meat category in September, according to a consumer advocacy group's newsletter.

Formerly known as USDA Good, this type of beef contains less fat that USDA Prime and USDA Choice, the two premium designations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's voluntary grading program designates beef into various classifications depending on fat content, or marbling, an indicator of tenderness. USDA Prime and USDA Choice are considered superior in flavor and, thus, are more costly because of the marbling, which appears as white flecks within the red meat.

Public Voice for Food & Health Policy, petitioned the federal government to change the USDA Good grade to USDA Select in hopes of making leaner meat more appealing to consumers and grocers alike. The switch, it appears, has made a difference.

Public Voice's Advocacy Update reports that during the first few months of 1988, the USDA is grading as much as 27 million pounds of beef a week as Select, an increase of 35% over 1987's weekly average of 20 million pounds.

The level is likely to rise even higher because at least one Southern California supermarket chain plans to heavily promote USDA Select beef in the near future.

In the months to come, Ralphs Grocery Co. will advertising that all its beef is USDA Select, according to Charles Bergh, a vice president for the Compton-based chain.

"The name Select has better connotations than the word Good, " Bergh told a recent meat industry gathering. He added that the category is also appealing to health-conscious consumers because it has less fat than the more costly grades.

Despite the emphasis on USDA Select, Berg said that consumers generally are not interested in the grading system.

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