FDA backs Impossible Foods’ “magic ingredient”

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31 Jul 2018 --- Impossible Foods has received a no-questions letter from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), validating the unanimous conclusion of food-safety experts that its key ingredient – “heme” – is safe to eat. Impossible Foods makes meat directly from plants and the company uses science and technology to create wholesome, nutritious food, restore natural ecosystems and feed a growing population sustainably, thus with a much smaller environmental footprint than meat from animals.

The company’s flagship product, the Impossible Burger, is available in nearly 3,000 locations in the US and Hong Kong. Earlier this year, America’s original fast-food restaurant, White Castle, added the Impossible Slider to menus in 140 restaurants nationwide.

The Impossible Burger is made through a combination of plant-based ingredients. The key ingredient soy leghemoglobin is a protein that carries “heme,” an iron-containing molecule that occurs naturally in every animal and plant. Heme is the so-called “magic ingredient” that enables the Impossible Burger to satisfy meat lovers’ cravings, according to Impossible Foods, and makes it look, taste and behave like real meat. 

Before issuing its no-questions letter, the FDA reviewed comprehensive test data about soy leghemoglobin to assess its status as “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS. As the standard process, the FDA posted the full, 1,066-page submission from Impossible Foods on its website for public review. FDA researchers also reviewed the comments of top food safety experts, who unanimously concluded that soy leghemoglobin is safe to eat and compliant with all federal food-safety regulations.

Click to Enlarge“We have no questions at this time regarding Impossible Foods’ conclusion that soy leghemoglobin preparation is GRAS under its intended conditions of use to optimize flavor in ground beef analog products intended to be cooked,” the FDA states.

“Getting a no-questions letter goes above and beyond our strict compliance to all federal food-safety regulations,” explains Impossible Foods CEO and Founder Dr. Patrick O. Brown. “We have prioritized safety and transparency from day one, and they will always be core elements of our company culture.”

In issuing the no-questions letter, the FDA also noted that soy leghemoglobin could be considered a “color additive” in some potential future applications. The FDA has a separate regulatory process to approve the use of color additives and Impossible Foods is preparing to engage in that process to ensure it has maximum flexibility as its products and business continue to evolve.

Heme is an essential molecular building block of life, one of nature’s most ubiquitous molecules. It is most familiar as the molecule that carries oxygen in your blood.

Heme is in virtually all the food we eat, and it’s particularly abundant in animal muscle. It’s the abundance of heme that makes meat (both meat from animal carcasses and Impossible Foods’ meat from plants) uniquely delicious and craveable. Heme is not just safe to eat – it’s required for life – says Impossible Foods.

To satisfy the global demand for meat at a fraction of the environmental impact, Impossible Foods developed a far more sustainable, scalable and affordable way to make heme and therefore meat, without the catastrophic environmental impact of livestock. The company genetically engineers and ferments yeast to produce a heme protein naturally found in plants, called soy leghemoglobin.

The heme in the Impossible Burger is identical to the essential heme humans have been consuming for hundreds of thousands of years in meat – and while the Impossible burger delivers all the craveable depth of beef, it uses far fewer resources.

Producing the Impossible Burger uses about 75 percent less water, generates about 87 percent fewer greenhouse gases and requires around 95 percent less land than conventional ground beef from cows.

Safety and transparency
Impossible Foods has prioritized safety and transparency since the company’s founding and the Impossible Burger has so far complied with all food-safety regulations since before it was available to the public.

In 2014, years, before the company began selling the product to restaurants, a panel of leading food safety experts gave the opinion that the Impossible Burger’s key ingredient, soy leghemoglobin, is GRAS. 

Additional testing – including a stringent rat feeding study – provided even more objective, scientific data that the product is safe. A 2016 study examined whether consumption of soy leghemoglobin in amounts orders of magnitude above regular dietary exposure would produce any adverse effects. There were none. And a comprehensive search of allergen databases found that soy leghemoglobin has a very low risk of allergenicity and it’s shown no adverse effects in exhaustive testing.

Earlier this year, FoodIngredientsFirst spoke with Jessica Appelgren, Vice President of Communications at Impossible Foods. You can read the interview here

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