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Decoding labels

Decoding labels

Credit: AP

by Terri Gruca

Bio | Email | Follow: @TerriG_KVUE


Posted on February 20, 2011 at 11:00 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 15 at 3:57 PM

There are so many different labels now on foods and products it can be tough to decipher what they all mean.

The USDA plans to launch a new biopreferred labeling program February 21st. So you’ll start to see products with these labels.

The idea is to help consumers make smarter choices on renewable, environmentally friendly biobased products. So you’ll start to notice labels on all kinds of products from food to bath towels.

Sounds good in theory but when you look at the requirements you may have a different take.

When it was originally proposed the government wanted to require products to have at least 51 percent biobased materials but some manufacturers complained so the USDA lowered the threshold. So you will find some products that only have to have 11 percent biobased materials.

It’s a step in the right direction but it’s why I think it’s so important to know what certain labels mean. You can find a list of products that have already been certified here.

Below you’ll find helpful information on some of the most popular food labels—what they mean and what they don’t cover.


For a food to be labeled organic and carry a USDA organic label that food must meet certain guidelines.

The USDA says all products labeled “100 percent organic” must contain only organically produced ingredients and processing aids. Products labeled “organic” must be made with 95 percent organic ingredients.

Products that say“made with organic ingredients” must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients.

Companies can be fined $10,000 for mislabeling products as organic.

All Natural

The FDA does not regulate the term “all natural”. That means any food carrying this label can mean a variety of things or nothing at all.

Zero Trans fat

According to the FDA a food with 0.4 grams of trans fat can be listed as having zero trans fats. However, some groups argue products that contain this label should also be low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Here is a good guide on how to read current food labels.

This is a guide you can print out and take to the store with you.

Here is a great guide to help your children eat healthier at home, at school and at restaurants.

You can find helpful information for Raw fruits, vegetables and fish here. You can print out these sheets as well and decide which fruits and vegetables have the least amount of sugars and which are highest in fiber.

The FDA has created a guide to help you better understand terms like “light” and “good source”. You can find that guide here.

There is also a good explanation of what foods must do to meet the “whole grain” definitions.