The FDA Stole Your Bucatini

Instead of blocking food imports during a pandemic in which supply chains are strained, the FDA should allow consumers to choose food that will fill them up.


Any pasta enthusiast worth her salt will tell you that bucatini—which is like spaghetti but thicker, and with a hole in the middle—is the gold standard of deliciousness, unrivaled in texture and taste. So naturally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) felt the need to ruin consumers' bucatini bliss.

The absence of bucatini on store shelves since about April 2020 should be attributed not to the COVID-19 pandemic and related supply chain disruptions but rather to an FDA rule mandating that all pasta contain 13–16.5 milligrams of iron per pound, reported Grub Street.* Imports of De Cecco's bucatini have been stopped at the border since March 30 due to the FDA's discovery that the massive pasta company's product contained only 10.9 milligrams of iron per pound. (Typically, customers would also be able to buy from De Cecco competitor Barilla, but that company cut back production of bucatini during the pandemic.) Although the pasta variety remains legal to import and sell in other countries, U.S. consumers have been left in the lurch as the company attempts to iron out this regulatory wrinkle.

Iron deficiency is a real problem for some Americans, but insufficiently fortified pasta is not the culprit, especially not when abundant sources of nutritional iron can be found throughout the average American grocery store. The fact that the FDA chose to bar access to a product with some iron, but not enough, means it chose to punish a company (and its customers) for doing insufficient good rather than something bad.

Making a subpar situation worse has been the FDA's forte of late. At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 800 distilleries across the country stopped producing spirits and started attempting to meet the ever-growing demand for hand sanitizer; the FDA responded by slapping them with $14,000 fees targeted at drug production facilities. (After reporting by Reason, the fees were lifted.)

The FDA can do a lot of good by simply getting out of the way. Just a few months ago, the agency finally repealed a 1971 regulation of the contents of frozen cherry pie. The rules, which did not apply to other fruit pies or even to unfrozen cherry pies, restricted the number of "blemished" cherries that could be used in a filling.

Instead of blocking food imports during a pandemic in which supply chains are strained, the FDA should allow consumers to choose food that will fill them up while requiring a little more iron from some other item. Our ability to make perfect cacio e pepe and optimal carbonara is suffering as a result of the agency's pointless overreach.

**CORRECTION: The post has been updated to attribute reporting to Grub Street.

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  1. I have suffered at times from iron deficiencies. Eating carbs is not the way to solve that. Actually carbohydrates just adds to my weight problems. Though I would like to have this as an option.

    1. Cooking in cast iron is the way to go on many levels:
      -natural non-stick surface that is replenished with a bit of oil between uses
      -no flaky bits of non-stick teflon and other particles in your food
      adds significant amounts of dietary iron to foods, especially slightly acidic foods like the tomato based sauces that one might serve with pasta dishes

  2. In my opinion its the sauce , cheeses and herbs that make past good. Fettuccine alfredo with capers or some slivered ham is a favorite of mine. And manicotti . As for iron, steak on the grill works for me. Of course, the FDA should butt out.

  3. Better mix many different things with bucatini to make it the perfect iron-pasta. Spinachs, meat....

    1. How about a handful of rust flakes?

      1. How do you think they get iron in pasta? It’s literally powdered iron.

    2. That works! The more nutrients you get from good food, the better it is for your body.

  4. I’ve only ever seen bucatini at my local Ingles, just as I’ve only seen kluski noodles at my local Kroger, but I love pasta and in a wide variety. The FDA, like any government agency, has to keep passing more and more regulations to justify not just its existence but its expansion. At some point, they’re doing more harm than good as they wind up splitting hairs in ever-finer increments. “Good enough” is never good enough when your budget and your jurisdiction is at stake. And the FDA are chumps compared to the EPA when it comes to finding ever more things that need ever more regulation, they’re more like the CPSC or the Department of Agriculture.

    1. When the money runs out, the fucking food police will be among the first to go. And it will be beautiful.

      1. FDA has their usefulness. The standard for iron content was likely established along with fluoride added to drinking water and vitamin D enriched milk. Information gets updated, recommendations for public health change.

  5. Target has bucatini, or at least mine did last week.

    1. My Publix did too.

      1. Fake news!

      2. Agreed: add Harris Teeter to the list as well. I don’t know where the author lives, but we do not have a shortage of bucatini in our area.

  6. The iron in “fortified” foods does the body NO good. The food manufacturers actually add metallic iron cereals and pasta, which is a form the human body cannot use. Eat liver if you want iron.

    1. That is something of a myth. Metallic iron, exposed to the acidic environment of the human stomach, is rapidly oxidized to the form that can be absorbed (fe 3+). Drop some iron filings into muriatic acid and see.

      But how much of a given ‘dose’ of metallic iron will be absorbed varies substantially based mostly upon particle size. Because that oxidation is a surface phenomenon and is also further limited by gut transit time. Bigger particles, with most of their mass passing through the gut unscathed, tending to yield the ‘poorest’ rates of absorption.

      Mill the particles small enough and the difference in absorption from common iron supplements – e.g. ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate (both of which also need to undergo the same oxidation to the ferric state prior to absorption) – and the difference in absorption will be insignificant.

      Mill the particles small enough, then expose them to water, air and heat, say in a process similar to to pasta manufacturing, and a lot of it will already be oxidized.

      The key thing to remember about iron – no matter what form is that it is all poorly absorbed by the human body.

      BTW if you are wondering why the supplement forms of iron are in the ferrous (Fe 2+) state rather than the absorbable ferric state it is because the water soluble ferric salts – ferric chloride, ferric sulfate, or ferric nitrate – are strong oxidizers and would cause much more irritation to the esophagus and/or stomach.

      1. Oh, and should anyone actually try the experiment keep things small. There will be a gas generated from the initial reaction between the metallic iron and the acid, and the gas is pure hydrogen.

  7. I’m beginning to wonder if bureaucratic efforts in response to the pandemic have been about opportunistic control rather than safety or mitigation.

    1. In a few months from when even the most recalcitrant, far left wing jurisdictions have mostly opened back up, they’ll claim victory for “fixing” the crisis that they created in the first place.

      1. “Here, some sensibility.”
        “I made this.”
        “No you didn’t I did.”
        “Fine, you made this.”

    2. That’s some seditious talk right there.

    3. That largely depends on your outlook, your state government, and the party to which you and your governor belong.

  8. I just bought Barilla bucatini on my last shopping trip. This was at Publix. It appears to be available again.

    Full disclosure, it was a new addition and wasn’t previously in stock.

  9. “the FDA responded by slapping them with $14,000 fees targeted at drug production facilities. (After reporting by Reason, the fees were lifted.)”

    Lol still clinging to that one, huh?

  10. There’s a far better article on grubstreet that you should read and goes into more depth. I would post a link but I don’t appear to have that ability for some Reason.

    “The very real, totally bizarre bucatini shortage of 2020”

  11. Why have a gigantic bloated bureaucracy if we can’t fuck with people?

  12. FDA rule mandating that all pasta contain 13–16.5 milligrams of iron per pound.

    It’s nice to start the day with something so stupid it makes me wonder if I’m actually awake.

  13. FDA doing it’s job to protect its patrons. Barilla is actually made in Illinois whereas DeCecco is imported from Italy, so they’re saving jobs. I think the whole thing is BS

  14. But haven’t you guys all heard about the massive iron deficiency outbreak in Italy due to consumption of bucatini?

    Me neither.

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  16. > an FDA rule mandating that all pasta contain 13–16.5 milligrams of iron per pound

    Do you guys know what iron fortified means? It means there are actual particles of iron in the food. Not some compound containing iron, or natural additive containing a compound containing iron. But actual chunks of iron.

    It’s safe, but it’s still chunks of iron. Chunks that pass through the bowels because the body doesn’t absorb iron that way. Duh.

    Experiment. Take a box of iron fortified corn flakes. Puree and soak in water until all you have is a thin slurry with no chunks of corn flake left. Put in a clear glass jar. Now get a very strong neodymium magnet and attach it to the side of the jar. Slowly swirl the thin mixture. Watch as BLACK IRON accumulated by the magnet. Yup. Iron. Not a compound, elemental iron.

    Enough boxes of corn flakes and you can literally forge a sword.

    1. What you do not see is the oxides that are already in solution. Not being magnetic they do not respond to the neo, and already being in solution they wouldn’t be visible anyway.

      But even so, continue your experiment by placing the magnet in the slurry, allowing the particles to adhere to it, then remove the magnet along with the particles and drop it all into a jar of muriatic acid (aka hydrochloric acid, aka stomach acid) and see what happens to all that black iron. Much of it will be oxidized into a soluble and absorbable form.

      What the FDA is doing is indeed silly, but not because the iron they demand is not going to be biologically available. They are stupid, but not that stupid.

      1. Get a microscope and you can literally see specks of iron. Dietary iron doesn’t come in specks of elemental iron. Just saying.

        > They are stupid, but not that stupid.

        I work in the medical industry, R&D. Making cool shit to save lives. I can only assume if the D side of FDA is stupid then so is the F side.

        1. I’m a registered pharmacist. They do not use ferrous salts (as found in dietary supplements) in food because they tend to discolor the product.

          Elemental iron works just fine as a food additive when particle size is small.

          People who buy into the nonsense that “the human body cannot use elemental iron” are the stupid ones.

  17. A real libertarian would ask why is iron required in a product that doesn’t need iron.

    1. This

    2. The problem isn’t the “iron”, but the “required”.

    3. Yep, or why they add vitamin D to milk, B vitamins to bread, or why iodine is in salt.

      None of which are bad, but also none of which should be mandated.

  18. I read the original article which started this, and immediately went out and found Bucatini all over Krogers

    1. Yes, it’s an outdated article. The problem has largely solved itself without the need for congressional hearings or storming capitals or whatever. The market demand was high enough that bucatini made its way to our shores. Gosh.

  19. I see this brand is still available from Amazon, wonder if they can ship it and if so is that the real reason it is held up at the border…payoff to Bezos?

  20. Ugh. This. I love this country but it’s impossible to find unadulterated food or ingredients because the government mandates all these additives. I don’t want iron in my pasta, I don’t want folate in my bread, I do want palm oil in my chocolate, I occasionally like a good haggis (it’s just lamb sausage) and I can’t for the life of me see why I am required to hunt and process my own deer instead of buying it from a store like everything else.

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