Take a quick walk through your local grocery store and you’ll see dozens of different food labels, from organic to free range, grass fed, and antibiotic free. Deciphering these labels can get confusing, which is why the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) works with growers and producers to keep things consistent. Here are a few of the more common food labels and what they mean.
Certified: The term “certified” means the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Services have evaluated a meat product for class, grade, or other characteristics.
Free Range: Those who raise poultry can also use the term Free Roaming as long as the bird “has been allowed access to the outside.” While the USDA does not clearly define “time outside,” if you buy your chicken and eggs locally, you’ll know just how much time they spend in the great outdoors.
Fresh: This label pertains to poultry. Anytime poultry is labeled as “fresh” it can never have been below 26ºF after butchering.
Grass-fed: The grass-fed label simply means that the cows or goats were fed only grass and allowed to forage during the growing season. The American Grass-fed Association certifies beef, bison, dairy, lamb, and goats but does not certify chickens or pigs.
Natural: The term “natural” can be subjective, but when labeling food, it simply means that no artificial ingredients or colors were added. Plus, the food can only be minimally processed. These labels must also contain qualifiers, such as “no artificial ingredients.”
No Antibiotics: This label can be used as long as the producer can show that the meat or poultry was raised without antibiotics.
No Hormones: The USDA clearly states that no hormones are allowed in raising hogs or poultry. The only way this label can be used with hogs or poultry is by adding the sentence “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.” The term “no hormones administered” can be used with beef.
Non-GMO: This label can be used when an organic product does not contain genetically engineered ingredients. Additionally, before a meat can carry this label, the organic animals cannot have been fed genetically engineered feed.
Organic: For anyone producing less than $5,000 worth of organic products annually, the USDA does not require organic certification. But for everyone else, the label has some specific guidelines, including an evaluation of soil quality, how animals are raised, pest and weed control, and the use of additives.
When it comes to produce, “organic” means that it has been grown in soil that has no prohibited substances applied to it for three years prior to harvest. That includes synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Organic meat regulations require that animals have the ability to graze on pasture or spend time outside. The USDA also requires that animals be fed 100% organic feed and forage, and not given any antibiotics or hormones to receive the organic label.
Specific organic labels include
100 Percent Organic, means the product contains 100% organic ingredients.
Organic, simply means that the product contains a minimum of 95% organic ingredients.
Made with Organic ____, means that at least 70% of the ingredients are organic.
Looking for farm-fresh eggs or meat that were lovingly raised? Go local. Take a quick drive outside your city limits where you’ll find plenty of farmers and ranchers willing to help you stock your fridge and freezer. Or stop by your Northwest owned and operated Coastal and we’ll tell you where to find the best farm-fresh goodness.