Here's what labels must include: product name, manufacturer's name and address, amount of the item in the package (weight or count), list of ingredients (in descending order by weight) and the nutrition facts statement. (Some items — like very small packages of food, foods prepared in the store, and foods made by small manufacturers — don't always need to contain this information.)
The FDA also requires that food manufacturers disclose common food allergens, using plain language. So rather than list "casein," for example, the manufacturer must use the word "milk." The purpose is to make it easy for consumers to identify the top eight allergens — milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat — which account for 90 percent of food allergies.
Nutrition Facts Label
Whether you're counting calories, trying to boost your intake of particular vitamins, or limiting fat or sodium, the Nutrition Facts Label is indispensable. Keep in mind that the information on calories and nutrients is based on one serving, but many packages contain more than one serving. (The label also specifies how many servings are in the package.) You'll want evaluate same-size servings when comparison shopping.
The Daily Value section of the Nutrition Facts Label is based on a 2,000-calorie diet; you may need more or less, of course. This information can help you decide if a food is high or low in a particular nutrient.
Other Package Claims
Manufacturers have the option of providing addition information. But sometimes a little interpretation is required. For example what, exactly, is "low fat?"
Here are the per-serving requirements that must be met before using these claims, as defined by the FDA:
Fat-Free — Less than 0.5 grams of fat, with no added fat or oil
Low fat — 3 grams or less of fat
Less fat — 25% or less fat than the comparison food
Saturated Fat Free — Less than 0.5 grams of saturated fat and 0.5 grams of trans-fatty acids
Cholesterol-Free — Less than 2 mg cholesterol and 2 grams or less saturated fat
Low Cholesterol — 20 mg or less cholesterol and 2 grams or less saturated fat
Reduced Calorie — At least 25 percent fewer calories than the comparison food
Low Calorie — 40 calories or less
Extra Lean — Less than 5 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, and 95 mg of cholesterol per (100 gram) serving of meat, poultry or seafood
Lean — Less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 g of saturated fat, and 95 mg of cholesterol per (100 gram) serving of meat, poultry or seafood
Light (fat) — 50% or less of the fat than in the comparison food
Light (calories) — 1/3 fewer calories than the comparison food
High-Fiber — 5 grams or more fiber
Sugar-Free — Less than 0.5 grams of sugar
Sodium-Free or Salt-Free — Less than 5 mg of sodium
Low Sodium — 140 mg or less
Very Low Sodium — 35 mg or less
Healthy — A food low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, that contains at least 10 percent of the Daily Values for vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein or fiber.
High, Rich in or Excellent Source — 20 percent or more of the Daily Value for the designated nutrient
Good Source Of, More or Added — The food provides 10 percent more of the Daily Value for a given nutrient than the comparison food
Less, Fewer or Reduced — At least 25 percent less of a given nutrient or calories than the comparison food
Low, Little, Few or Low Source of — An amount that would allow frequent consumption of the food without exceeding the Daily Value for the nutrient
The FDA is still working on a standard definition for gluten-free.
USDA Organic Seal
To sport the USDA Organic Label, a product must have met national, consistent standards (for certified organic farms and handling operations) set by the Organic Foods Protection Act and the National Organic Program. The use of the seal is voluntary.
The USDA Organic Seal tells consumers that a product is at least 95 percent organic. A USDA seal labeled "100 percent organic" must contain only organically produced ingredients. Processed products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients can use the phrase "made with organic ingredients," but cannot use the USDA organic seal. Processed products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients can only use the term "organic" to specifically identify individual ingredients.
Fair Trade Labels
If an item is Fair Trade Certified™, it means that certain criteria have been met in its production. The criteria include fair labor conditions and wages for farmers, direct trade (elimination of the middle man when possible), support of democratic organizations and community development, and environmental sustainability. In the US, you're likely to see a Fair Trade Certified™ label on teas, coffees, chocolates, herbs and spices, cocoa, fresh fruit, sugar, rice, and vanilla. TransFair USA is the non-profit organization that provides certification in the US. It's a member of the international group Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO). In Europe and Asia, a group called National Initiatives (Nis) provides certification; it's a member of FLO, too.
A Fair Trade Federation (FTF) label doesn't certify products but shows that the company that produced the product is a member of the FTF. Members of the FTF have demonstrated that their business practices provide fair wages and employment to disadvantaged farmers and artisans. FTF products include food (like coffee and teas), as well as clothing and accessories (like jewelry and purses), body care items, and home and garden items.
Sustainable Agricultural Labels
These indicate that a product has been grown in keeping with practices outlined by a sustainability program. The focus of these programs is on environmentally- and socially-sound practices. Rainforest Alliance and The Food Alliance are samples of Sustainable Agricultural labels.
There's no requirement that a manufacturer disclose on a product label that a product contains genetically modified ingredients. That's because the FDA sees no safety issue; they consider GMO products basically the same as traditional foods, and they don't require disclosure of information about how foods are grown. The FDA has provided guidelines for producers who wish to use a "No GMO" label as a way to help consumers identify products that were grown without the use of genetically modified organisms. Consumer groups continue to work towards mandatory labeling of GMO products.
Because the FDA sees no significant difference between the milk from cows that have and have not been treated with recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST, a synthetic hormone that's given to cows to increase milk production), they do not require that dairy items include the hormone on their labels. Producers who want to specify that their cows are not treated with the hormone may include a label that specifies "from cows not treated with "rbST." Because the hormone bovine somatotropin (bST) occurs naturally in cows, dairy labels may not read simply "no bST" or "hormone-free." Consumer groups advocate the labeling of rbST dairy products.
If foods — like fruits, vegetables, seeds, spices, poultry, meat and spices — have been treated with radiation to kill bacteria, they must carry the "radura" symbol (an international symbol for irradiation) that states "treated with irradiation." Packaged items with very small amounts of an ingredient that's been irradiated (like a spice) need not contain the label.
From the National Cooperative Grocers Association News Service
New in Grocery
|Forget Condiment Tedium: Spice Up Your BBQ w/Local Sauces|
By Anngel Delany,
Fire up your next barbecue with local condiments, from mustard to chutney, salad dressing to sauerkraut.
Add a little zing to your picnic or backyard barbecue with some of our local condiments. We carry a delectable mix of Culinary Kiosk products including salad dressings, chutneys, and a coconut curry and peanut lime sauce (great for marinades). All of Culinary Kiosk's products are organic and they source local ingredients whenever possible. We also carry a variety of tasty products from Sunrise Samosas — two chutney sauces and a mild or hot curry sauce will liven up most any meal. We've got their refreshing coolers, too — Strawberry Lemonade, Berry Blast, and Lime Mint — stocked with the other cold beverages. And don't forget about the delicious and nutritious fermented goodies from MacDonald Farms — sauerkraut, pickles, kim chi, and mustard. If you need a chips and salsa fix, check out our new Off the Cob local sweet corn tortilla chips — a perfect match for some Brooklyn Salsa.