After Nearly 20 Years, They Finally Freed the Frozen Cherry Pie

The market offers many alternatives to bad desserts. We don’t need the FDA to step in.


Frozen cherry pie manufacturers have finally been liberated from one of the most unnecessary Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. And it only took nearly 20 years of lobbying!

On March 14 ("Pi Day," of course), the FDA announced that "standards of identity and quality" for frozen cherry pies that were implemented in 1971 were revoked as of April 15. These standards of identity mandated how many cherries needed to be in frozen cherry pies (25 percent by weight) and how blemished they were permitted to be (only 15 percent) in order to be included in these pies.

What made these standards unusual, even taking into account the reams of FDA regulations that exist, is that these regulations applied only to cherry pies, and specifically to frozen cherry pies. Fresh cherry pies did not have to meet these standards. Frozen apple pies did not have to meet these standards. Only these pies did.

There are costs to these regulations, to be clear. There's an entire complicated compliance process the FDA implemented in 1971 to make sure manufacturers put the right amount of high-quality cherries into pies.

What was absent from all of this was any evidence that Americans needed the federal government's protection from lower-quality frozen pies. The American Bakers Association submitted a petition to the FDA all the way back in 2005 to see if this rule could be revoked.

Eventually the FDA agreed and announced plans for a rule change. As an example of how long it takes for even the tiniest amount of deregulation to happen, this initial announcement came in December 2020, under former President Donald Trump's administration. But that was just the announcement of the pending rule change; the whole lengthy process wasn't actually completed until March 2024.

The FDA explained when it announced the change was finally coming:

No standards of identity and quality exist for any other types of frozen fruit pies, or for any non-frozen fruit pies, including non-frozen cherry pie. We conclude that the standards of identity and quality for frozen cherry pie are no longer necessary to promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers.

Reason covered the announcement of the change back in 2020, noting at the time, "The reality is that it's not 1971 anymore, and innovations in both agriculture and food preparation have given Americans more options and competition, such that people don't actually have to settle for crappy frozen cherry pies." If some pie manufacturer decides to put out unpalatable cherry pies now that the government has eased the rules, consumers can simply buy somebody else's, or even make their own much more easily than they could have in 1971.

It has taken nearly 20 years to eliminate a petty food regulation that doesn't really serve a purpose, one that advancements and improvements in the marketplace had already rendered obsolete.