FDA GRAS Letter Lets Impossible Burger Into Groceries

July 31, 2019
Agency approval of key ingredient soy hemoglobin is final hurdle to vegetarian burger.

Impossible Foods on July 23 received a no-objections letter from the FDA that will allow its plant-based "burgers" to be sold in grocery stores – a hurdle that was preventing the company from widespread distribution and meeting other veggie-burger competitors head-on.

The FDA letter was required because soy leghemoglobin, a key ingredient in the Impossible Burger, was not previously “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS. FDA reviewed mountains of test data about soy leghemoglobin, which Impossible refers to as heme, and determined it is safe to eat and compliant with all federal food-safety regulations.

FDA also noted heme could be considered a “color additive” in future applications, although that may take more paperwork.

Soy leghemoglobin is a protein that carries “heme,” an iron-containing molecule that occurs naturally in every animal and plant. Impossible Foods apparently is unique in using heme and claims it is the “magic ingredient” that makes Impossible Burgers taste more like real beef burgers than other vegetarian analogues.

The company’s flagship product, the Impossible Burger, is available in nearly 3,000 locations in the U.S. and Hong Kong, but until now the American locations have been restaurants, not groceries. Early this year, White Castle added the Impossible Slider to menus in 140 restaurants nationwide, and Burger King, after a successful test, plans a national rollout of an Impossible Whopper before the end of this year.

Impossible Foods' lengthy petition can be read here. The company was one of our five "Food Industry Disruptors."

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