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What are some types of health claims on packaged foods and what do they mean?

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Food labels are meant to be informative, but often can be confusing. Here are some common food claims:

Organic. The National Organic Program (NOP) within the USDA is in charge of the green-and-white organic label you see on some produce and packaging. Foods that have it were made the most natural way possible as defined by NOP guidelines.

Made With Organic. If a product is labeled as being "made with organic [ingredient]," at least 70% of that ingredient must be organic. For example, a label might say "made with organic oats." These products don't get the USDA organic label.

Gluten-Free. This label is important for people with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, an autoimmune condition. There is no FDA symbol for this standard. But you can trust a gluten-free claim on most foods.

Cage Free vs. Free Range vs. Organic. You may see this claim on eggs, poultry, or meats.

Wild Caught vs. Farm Raised. Wild caught means the seafood was caught in a lake, ocean, or another natural body of water. Farm raised means they’re raised in tanks or in net cages off shore.

  • Cage free means hens are still in a closed space, but they have room to walk around.
  • Free range means they get outdoors, even if it’s fenced in.
  • Organic produce and meats were grown or raised in soil free of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, or allowed to graze on pastures and fed organic feed without antibiotics or hormones. Organic eggs come from free-range hens raised on organic feed.

SOURCES:

Animal Welfare Institute: "A Consumer's Guide to Food Labels and Animal Welfare."

Celiac Disease Foundation: "10 Fast Facts About the FDA Gluten-Free Labeling Rule."

Colorado State University: "Wild caught vs. farm raised seafood."

Electronic Code of Federal Regulations: "Country of Origin Labeling for Fish and Shellfish," "Food Labeling: Subpart E — Specific Requirements for Health Claims."

FDA: "Label Claims for Conventional Foods and Dietary Supplements," "Organic on Food Labels," "Producing a Food Product that is Regulated by FDA," "Food Labeling Guide," "Use of the Term "Healthy" in the Labeling of Human Food Products: Guidance for Industry," "Use of the Term Natural on Food Labeling," "How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label," "Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label."

Food Safety and Inspection Service: "Food Safety and Inspection Service Labeling Guideline on Documentation Needed to Substantiate Animal Raising Claims for Label Submissions."

National Institute on Aging: "Reading Food Labels."

Organic Consumers Association: "Are Your Eggs Really "Organic?"

United State Department of Agriculture: "USDA Grademarked Product Label Submission Checklist."

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith on March 12, 2020

SOURCES:

Animal Welfare Institute: "A Consumer's Guide to Food Labels and Animal Welfare."

Celiac Disease Foundation: "10 Fast Facts About the FDA Gluten-Free Labeling Rule."

Colorado State University: "Wild caught vs. farm raised seafood."

Electronic Code of Federal Regulations: "Country of Origin Labeling for Fish and Shellfish," "Food Labeling: Subpart E — Specific Requirements for Health Claims."

FDA: "Label Claims for Conventional Foods and Dietary Supplements," "Organic on Food Labels," "Producing a Food Product that is Regulated by FDA," "Food Labeling Guide," "Use of the Term "Healthy" in the Labeling of Human Food Products: Guidance for Industry," "Use of the Term Natural on Food Labeling," "How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label," "Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label."

Food Safety and Inspection Service: "Food Safety and Inspection Service Labeling Guideline on Documentation Needed to Substantiate Animal Raising Claims for Label Submissions."

National Institute on Aging: "Reading Food Labels."

Organic Consumers Association: "Are Your Eggs Really "Organic?"

United State Department of Agriculture: "USDA Grademarked Product Label Submission Checklist."

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith on March 12, 2020

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What are the types of food claims regulated by the FDA?

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