FDA to Just Mayo: Mayonnaise without Eggs isn't Real Mayo

FDA to Just Mayo: Mayonnaise without Eggs isn't Real Mayo
Image: Hampton Creek
August 27, 2015

In the mayo wars, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seems to have sided with Big Mayo.

The agency issued a warning letter to the maker of Just Mayo advising the company that its marketing is deceptive given the vegan mayonnaise alternative isn't made with eggs and therefore doesn't meet the legal definition of mayonnaise.

According to the FDA, "mayonnaise is the emulsified semisolid food prepared from vegetable oil(s), one or both of the acidifying ingredients specified in paragraph (b) of this section, and one or more of the egg yolk-containing ingredients specified in paragraph (c) of this section."

Legally speaking, eggless mayonnaise isn't actually mayonnaise. Despite its lack of eggs, the packaging includes an image of one, which the FDA says is misleading.

The agency also took aim at the use of the word "mayo," which has long since been used as a nickname for the popular sandwich condiment.

"The use of the term "Just" together with "Mayo" reinforces the impression that the products are real mayonnaise by suggesting that they are "all mayonnaise" or "nothing but" mayonnaise," wrote the FDA in its letter. "However, your Just Mayo and Just Mayo Sriracha do not meet the definition of the standard for mayonnaise."

Just Mayo, writes the FDA, also includes additional ingredients, like modified food starch, that aren't permitted according to the definition.

Mayonnaise giant Unilever, the maker of Hellmann's sued the Just Mayo last year for deceptive advertising based on the eggless nature of the product. "Our Hellmann's brand is made from real eggs," a Unilever spokesperson wrote to NPR in a statement, and, "we simply wish to protect both consumers from being misled and also our brand."

Just Mayo is a small company but it has a foothold in major food stores like Walmart and Costco. Its fans took issue with Unilever's lawsuit claiming the company was just angry the tiny venture was dipping into the traditional mayo market. More than 112,400 people signed a petition urging Unilever to drop the suit and to, "stop bullying sustainable food companies." The outcry worked and Unilever dropped the suit.

Along with the lack of eggs, the FDA also took issue with some of the health claims made on the label. Just Mayo claims that the product is cholesterol free and an image of a heart implies that the product can reduce the risk of heart disease. But, says the FDA, the product contains too much fat in order to make those claims. Legally, products can only make health claims if they contain less than 13 grams of fat per serving. Just Mayo and Sriracha Just Mayo contain 36 grams of fat.

The company has about two weeks to respond to the FDA's letter.

DIY Mayo

As we wrote in a previous post, making mayo at home isn't difficult, but it does require raw eggs, increasing the risk of foodborne illness.

Chef Simon Hopkinson recently told NPR's The Salt to add boiling water to smooth out the taste, but don't expect the hot water to kill any lingering germs. N.C. State food safety researcher Ben Chapman wrote on Barfblog that it took 3/8 a cup of water to get the mayo above 135 degrees. Chapman also wrote to use in-shell pasteurized eggs to limit the likelihood of salmonella enteriditis.