New Federal Trade Commission Guidelines and Food Writers

foodpoliceThe Federal Trade Commission recently updated its “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” If you are a blogger, freelance writer, advertising copy writer, or professional writer you need to read the document, especially if you accept complimentary products such as food, wine, or free dinners. The revised rules require you to disclose how you received the products you review or endorse. Scott, over at has a brilliant analysis of the document.

Let me give you an example what happens here at D headquarters on a regular basis. Let’s say a box of cupcakes, a package of chocolate, or bag of food samples arrives with a note from the store owner or publicist. Everyone in the office goes bonkers and whatever is delivered disappears in about 2 seconds. If we don’t post anything on SideDish, I generally receive a “follow-up” note like this:

Hi Nancy, I just wanted to follow up on the “Insert Name” “Insert Item” that we sent last week from “Insert Company” and get your thoughts/feedback on the new flavors. We think it would make an interesting post on SideDish or an article for your magazine. We’d love to hear what you thought of them and see if they might be a fit for an upcoming story or mention. “Insert Company” will be expanding and owner “Insert Name” is hoping to open more locations soon.  We appreciate any comments you have!

If someone on the SideDish staff decides to write about the product, they now have to mention the fact that the food was not paid for by D Magazine. If we don’t, we violate the Federal Trade Commission Act and could receive a fine.

At the risk of calling in the food police, I will say that we have always run a tight ship around here. We’ve always paid for food we review and I do not attend media dinners or accept complimentary dinners. We have sent a copy of the FTC guidelines to our attorney to make sure we comply with all of the rules.

But here is one rub—I’ve already heard that some bloggers and indie food writers are finding ways to get around the rules by posting one small disclaimer somewhere on their webpage and not in the copy of the item. So readers beware. Ask questions. It’s a jungle out there.