Frozen pizza rules may disappear next year

March 17, 2002

Want another reason to rejoice that government isn't too involved in how pizzerias top their pies? Keep reading.

According to an Associated Press report, the government is proposing the removal of decades-old rules that dictate ingredients on frozen pizzas, specifically meat toppings.

Kraft, manufacturer of the enormously successful DiGiorno self-rising crust brand, and other frozen pizza makers say current guidelines restrict them from reducing pizza fat content or trying out new flavor combinations.

Under USDA "standards of identity", a meat pizza must have a crust, cheese, a tomato-based sauce and at least 10-12 percent meat by weight.

The rules 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. Tucker admits, however, that the code is outdated.

"That doesn't make sense in today's society," Tucker told AP.

The USDA will hear public opinion 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 percent meat -- the minimum content for anything labeled a meat product.

Restaurant and delivery pizzas are exempt from the rules, and USDA regulations don't apply to frozen vegetable or cheese pizzas either. Meatless products fall under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration, which has no identity standards for pizza.

Frozen pizza is a booming business. Kraft Foods, which also makes the Tombstone brand, has seen its pizza sales balloon from $190 million to $1 billion annually during the past decade. But frozen pizza still only accounts for a fraction of the $30 billion in total U.S. pizza sales.

USDA's rules "are outdated.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, 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."

Topics: Pizza Toppings

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