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Government Wants to Slice Frozen Pizza Rules

November 08, 2001|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Hold the pepperoni. The government wants to drop decades-old rules that dictate the ingredients of frozen pizzas, down to how much meat, sausage or pepperoni must be in the toppings.

Kraft and other pizza makers say the rules prevent them from lowering the fat content or trying out new sauces or ethnic styles.

Under the Agriculture Department's regulations, a meat pizza must have a crust, cheese, a tomato-based sauce and at least 10% to 12% meat by weight. A 12-inch pepperoni would typically have about 20 pepperoni slices.

The rules, known as standards of identity, were intended in part to promote consumption of meat and cheese, said consumer advocate Carol Tucker Foreman, who oversaw the department's food regulation during the Carter administration. "That doesn't make sense in today's society," she said.

There are similar identity standards for a variety of other processed products, including stew and chili.

The department will take public comment until Jan. 2 on its proposal to eliminate the pizza standards. Without those rules, a meat or sausage pizza could have as little as 2% meat. That's the minimum content for anything labeled as a meat product.

Restaurant and delivery pizzas are exempt from the rules. And under the federal government's system for regulating food, USDA regulations also don't apply to vegetable or cheese pizzas.

Frozen pizza is a booming business thanks to the development of self-rising dough. Kraft Foods, maker of DiGiorno and Tombstone brands, has seen its pizza sales balloon from $190 million to $1 billion annually over the last decade. But frozen pizza still only accounts for a fraction of the $30 billion in total U.S. pizza sales.

USDA rules "are outdated. The frozen pizza industry has changed dramatically," said Tony Mantuano, chef at Chicago's Spiaggia restaurant and a consultant to Schwan's Sales Enterprises Inc., maker of Freschetta pizza.

"One of our most popular pizzas is a pizza that has duck sausage and goat cheese. There's no tomato sauce. There's no mozzarella."

His definition of a pizza: "It has to have a great crust. What you put on top is what tastes good and what people like to eat. That's it."

If the USDA drops its rules, pizza makers can cut out some of the meat and experiment with toppings such as pesto or Alfredo sauce, said Jaye Neagle, senior director of research and development for Kraft's pizza division.

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