Organic foods: How are they different?
Guidelines give organic a set meaning.
Part of a food label's job is to let you know what's inside, but labels on organic products are also required tell you how the food got there.
Through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Organic Program, all foods with the word organic on the label have to meet set standards for contents and production.
Here's a rundown of USDA rules and what they mean for you:
USDA's definition of organic refers to how a food is grown, handled and processed.
According to the USDA, organic farmers use renewable resources when they can and try to conserve soil and water.
Organic foods are produced without most conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, sewage sludge-based fertilizers, bioengineering or ionizing radiation.
Animals raised to produce organic meat, poultry, eggs or dairy products can't be given antibiotics or growth hormones. They must get organic feed and have access to the outdoors.
USDA inspectors certify the farms and companies that grow and handle organic food.
Four food categories
- "100% organic" on the label means everything in the package is organically produced (except salt and water). These products may bear the "USDA Organic" seal.
- "Organic" on the label means at least 95% of the ingredients were organically produced. These products can also use the "USDA Organic" seal.
- "Made with organic ingredients" means at least 70% of the ingredients are organic. These products can list up to three organic ingredients on the main label. A soup label, for example, might say "soup made with organic peas, potatoes and carrots." These products cannot use the "USDA Organic" seal.
- Products with less than 70% organic ingredients can't use the word organic anywhere on the main label. Specific organic ingredients may be mentioned in the ingredient list. These products cannot use the "USDA Organic" seal.
Limits to the label
USDA makes no claim that organic foods are safer, more nutritious or better for you than other foods.
And remember that organic foods still need to be handled safely. Wash produce thoroughly, cook meats to the proper temperature, and refrigerate leftovers promptly to below 40 degrees.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. "About Organic Labeling." https://www.ams.usda.gov/grades-standards/organic-labeling-standards.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Introduction to Organic Practices." https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Organic%20Practices%20Factsheet.pdf.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Leftovers and Food Safety." https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/leftovers-and-food-safety.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Organic Production." https://www.nal.usda.gov/farms-and-agricultural-production-systems/organic-production.