overthinking a plate of beans (canned)
December 1, 2017 7:21 PM   Subscribe

NIST publication SP 1020-1 says "When a product is composed of solids in a liquid packing medium, the declaration of quantity should be in terms of drained weight." The label on my can of green beans reads "Net Wt. 14.5 oz." but the drained contents actually weigh 6.9 oz. Am I being cheated, and do I have any recourse?

The label gives the ingredients as "Green Beans, Water, Salt", and says the serving size is 120g, with about 3.5 servings per container. Does listing water as one of the ingredients excuse the canner from the NIST requirement?

The total weight of the contents (beans+water+salt) is 432g, so the servings-per-container info is about right if the liquid is included, and at 15.23 oz total the contents weigh more than the label says.

Publication SP 1020-1 says "The information in this guide is based on the Uniform Packaging and Labeling Regulation contained in NIST Handbook 1301 . NIST develops Handbook 130 in cooperation with the National Conference on Weights and Measures, an organization of industry representatives, government officials, and other interested parties. Handbook 130 is adopted and enforced by many state and local regulatory agencies."

Does California, where I live, mandate the NIST requirements? If it does, to whom would a complaint best be directed? My granddaughter has pointed out that a complaint to the manufacturer could result in an offer of more beans, so that's not optimal as even 7 oz weren't very nice, though if we got more they could be given away, of course.
posted by anadem to Food & Drink (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The relevant USDA recommendations are here. If you look at pg 10, you'll see the guidelines. You're looking for a "No. 300" can, likely. For whole green beans, the USDA recommends a minimum of 5.6 oz whole green beans. It seems like your can is well within USDA guidelines.
posted by saeculorum at 7:31 PM on December 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

The ounces may be volumetric, not weight.
posted by Oyéah at 7:42 PM on December 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I did this experiment with baked beans one time. When I wrote the company I got the reply that they stood by their can contents yadda yadda. Not helpful, sorry, but you're not the only person that's ever done this. I see no reason not to challenge food companies sometimes on what they're selling, recently I've had to report a place selling a white chocolate product that didn't meet the fda definition of white chocolate, and I've also seen a loaf of bread made by a large regional bread company that they were calling brioche that had no butter or eggs in the ingredients. When I complained about it they sent me coupons :/.
posted by Rufous-headed Towhee heehee at 7:47 PM on December 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

At least as regards the NIST pronouncement, "should" is not "shall." Sorry.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 8:04 PM on December 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

SP 1020-1 does not appear to have any legal effect. It's mostly a summary of NIST Handbook 130, which is adopted by reference by states. In California, Handbook 130 is adopted by 4 Cal. Code Regs. § 4510, authorized by Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 12609.

Unfortunately, Handbook 130 does not seem to contain a requirement to drain, generally. And as Napoleonic Terrier points out, NIST uses "should" to mean something is recommended but optional.
posted by grouse at 9:58 PM on December 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's pretty clear from the USDA guidelines that the handbook isn't expected to apply here, and I think that's a more useful arbiter since it's more specifically targeted at the industry and production type in question. But I'd add an inference from the standardization of the weights across different food types - those are "14.5 oz cans" almost regardless of the content - that from this fact alone you can tell this isn't how producers of *most* canned food are measuring their weights. Because garbanzo beans and tomatoes and green beans don't all have the same density (until you pack them all in water, at the least).
posted by Lady Li at 10:20 AM on December 2, 2017

If the can of beans is underweight, then you would want to file a complaint with your county Department of Weights and Measures. In most California counties, Weights and Measures is associated or a division of the county Agricultural Commissioner.
posted by Orrorin at 4:41 PM on December 8, 2017

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