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HomeAustraliaConfusing food health labels debunked: From 'triple-washed' to 'organic' and 'Non-GMO'

Confusing food health labels debunked: From ‘triple-washed’ to ‘organic’ and ‘Non-GMO’


There’s been an explosion of food health claims in recent years about “organic” and “grass-fed” foods being more nutritious and humane, but most of them aren’t as simple as they seem.

Many people imagine free-range cows as animals that are allowed to roam outside all day instead of being cooped up in a small space. However, they only spend a third of the year outdoors and there is no minimum space requirement.

Low-sodium foods may not be as healthy as they seem. They can still have up to 140 milligrams of salt, more than a small order of McDonald’s fries.

Labels such as ‘free range’, ‘light salt’ and ‘locally grown’ are vague and can mislead consumers

“Claims and seals don’t always mean what consumers think they do,” watchdog Consumer Reports said, citing misinformation these labels can create.

Given its confusing nature, it’s no surprise that a survey last year found that only nine percent of Americans know how to properly read a nutrition label.

Here’s DailyMail.com’s no-nonsense guide to food labels:

100 percent organic

This means that all ingredients and excipients are certified organic.

The United States Department of Agriculture defines organic produce as food that is “certified to have been grown on land that has not been applied to banned substances for three years prior to harvest.” This includes synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

However, salt and water do not count as organic ingredients as they are natural elements.

Most products with this claim are raw, unprocessed or minimally processed. It is mostly seen in agricultural crops.

These foods can either use the USDA’s Organic Seal on the packaging.

However, organic does not always mean healthy. Some research suggests that organic livestock have a diet higher in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to promote brain health and lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.

However, research is still limited.

The main advantage is that you are less likely to ingest pesticides, which are already present in miniscule quantities.


Only foods labeled

Only foods labeled “100 percent organic” or “organic” can carry the USDA’s official seal

While these foods can also carry the USDA Organic Seal, they are allowed to contain up to five percent non-organic ingredients.

This five percent must not include genetically modified organisms (GMOs), must not have been exposed to ionizing radiation, or must not have been fertilized with sewage sludge, according to the USDA.

Made with organic ingredients

Foods with this label must contain a minimum of 70 percent organic ingredients.

These foods should not have a USDA Organic Seal on the packaging.

Specific organic ingredients

Any food with this label contains less than 70 percent organic ingredients.

These foods also cannot use the USDA Organic Seal on the packaging.

Non-GMO Project Verified

GMOs are living beings whose genetic code has been altered in some way.

This is a third-party label stating that the product is made without genetically modified ingredients. These labels are not regulated by the USDA or the Food and Drug Administration.

Triple washed

The FDA doesn’t require vegetables and other produce to be washed, but many are at least rinsed before they hit the grocery store.

Triple washed food is washed three times before packaging. They are first rinsed to remove dirt, debris and grit.

They are then washed in water with chlorine and another disinfectant. Finally they are rinsed. Disinfectants must be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Grown locally

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“Locally grown” products are not subject to strictly enforced federal regulations governing how far they must be grown

This label is not regulated by any federal authority, so there is no official meaning. These products may have been grown on a local farm a few miles away, in the same county as your supermarket or farmer’s market, or simply in the same state.

While the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act defines locally grown as “is transported less than 400 miles, or from the state in which it is produced,” retailers, states, and markets may use their own definition.

Certified pesticide residue free

The seal verifies that the food has been tested and found to have levels of pesticides below a set of standards set by the independent certification agency SCS Global Services.

However, this does not guarantee that the food has been grown without the use of pesticides in general. However, this is better defined than the generic “pesticide-free” label, which is not regulated or defined by the FDA.

Not cured

Uncured meats are not preserved using unnatural or synthetic forms of the compounds nitrates or nitrites.

Instead, they were kept fresh with natural sources of nitrates, such as celery juice or beetroot powder. This means that the meat is less processed.

Free range

Animals that grow in pasture or get grass are not always restricted indoors, although there are few rules about how long they should be outside and how much space they need

Animals that grow in pasture or get grass are not always restricted indoors, although there are few rules about how long they should be outside and how much space they need

These animals have access to an outdoor area, although the FDA does not regulate how much space they should have. Cattle must have access to the outdoors for a minimum of 120 days a year, although there is no minimum requirement for poultry.


This claim implies that the animals have been kept on pasture or with access to pasture for at least part of their lives.

These animals are not confined to indoor spaces for continuous periods. However, there is no standard definition for it, nor is it regulated by any government or outside agency.

Certified Grass Fed

This label claims that the animals were fed a 100 percent grass and fodder diet, such as hay, and no grains after they were weaned from their mother’s milk. This seal is regulated by the outside agency A Greener World.

American Grass Fed

This label on meat and dairy products guarantees that the animals have regular access to pasture.

As with the Certified Grassfed label, these animals were fed a diet consisting entirely of grass and forage, with no grains or animal by-products.

This label also prohibits the use of antibiotics and hormones. It is regulated by the American Grassfed Association.

No added sugar

No sugars or sugary ingredients have been added when packaging or processing a product.

These sneaky sources of sugar are concentrated juices, dried fruit, raisins or dates.

However, these foods may still contain naturally occurring sugars, such as those found in whole fruits, artificial sweeteners, and sugar alcohols, such as mannitol or sorbitol.

Sugar free

The FDA states that a food defined as “sugar-free” must contain less than half a gram of added or naturally occurring sugars. These foods may still contain artificial sweeteners such as Splenda and sugar alcohols.

Low sodium content

These foods contain 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving. This label and other sodium-based claims are FDA regulated.

Lightly salted

Items with this label contain 50 percent less sodium per serving than a standard version of that product.

Less/Reduced Sodium

These products contain at least 25 percent less salt than the regular product.

Excellent source of

Foods that are considered an “excellent source” of something contain at least 20 percent of that nutrient’s daily value. These foods may also have labels that say “rich in” or “rich in.” The FDA regulates this label.

Good source of

The FDA requires foods with this label to contain anywhere from 10 to 19 percent of the daily value of the said nutrient.

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