Food Packaging Claims

Created by: Hali Obray, Dietetic Intern 

When you’re at the grocery store picking up eggs, meat, produce, or packaged goods, there are a lot of claims on various brands’ packaging. What do they mean? Is there a difference? Food packaging claims can be confusing at best and misleading at worst. Today we’ll be defining some of the common packaging claims so you can make more informed choices next time you go to the store.

First, let’s talk about the claims commonly found on meat and egg packages.

  • Natural: This label simply means that it contains no artificial ingredients or added color and that it is minimally processed. Minimally processed means that it is processed in a way that does not fundamentally alter the product. 
  • Organic: In order to qualify as organic, animals must have year-round access to the outdoors, feed must be 100% organic, and grazing animals such as cows must be allowed to graze for at least 120 days (or one grazing season). These animals can receive vaccines, but no antibiotics or growth hormones. If the animal gets sick and needs medication that is not on the approved list to recover, the animal may no longer be considered organic.
  • Certified Humane: This label states that the animals were raised with sufficient space, shelter, and gentle handling to limit the animals’ stress. The animals were also allowed to engage in natural behaviors and had unlimited access to food and water. Animal managers and handlers are trained and competent in the animals’ welfare and animal husbandry.
  • Cage Free: The chickens/poultry live in a room or building with unlimited access to food and water.
  • Free Range: The chickens/poultry live in a room or building with unlimited access to food and water, as well as have continuous access to outside.

What about produce?

  • Organic: Farmers producing organic produce must use organic seeds, no pesticides (there is a list of approved pest-management options), and no genetic engineering of plants.

Finally, other packaged items.

  • Fat Free: While these items do not contain fat, they are not necessarily lower calorie than their fat-containing counterpart. Additionally, fat free products often contain higher amounts of sugar to maintain flavor that would have been lost with the reduction of fat content.
  • Sugar Free: Similar to fat free products, sugar free products are not necessarily lower in calories and will often contain higher amounts of fat to maintain flavor lost by reducing sugar.
  • No Sugar Added: Just because there is no added sugar does not mean the product does not contain sugar. Most foods, like fruits, vegetables, grains, and milk naturally contain sugar. You can check total and added sugar amounts on the nutrition facts label. 
  • Made with Real Fruit: This claim can be sneaky. Real fruit is great, but manufacturers are not required to list how much real fruit the product contains. It may contain 100% or 1% real fruit. These products also may not even contain the type of fruit depicted on the box, so check the ingredient list.
  • Gluten Free (GF): These products are very important for people who have gluten allergies or celiac disease. However, this label does not mean that GF items contain more fiber, whole grains, or are healthier than products that contain gluten. 

Content adapted from ams.usda.gov, fsis.usda.gov, nhes.org, and extension.usu.eduImage: eatright.org

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