A Look
into Labels

Check out this cheat sheet of meaningful food packaging symbols.

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Quick Guide to Food Packaging Labels

Learn About the Labels on Your Packaged Foods

Healthy living starts with eating well. Labels are a first look into how and where food is produced. Labeling came about out of concern for consumers safety after a major foodborne illness outbreak in the 1850s. This prompted President Abraham Lincoln to create the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1862, and from there strict guidelines were developed. Label-building began with placing a list of ingredients on the package and led to a nutritional panel followed by other claims and icons.

With a wide array of claims and icons on meat, milk, snacks, and more, we understand the challenge associated with knowing exactly what you are buying. While it may seem that there is a never-ending list, we have put together a guide of a few common claims and icons to help you make informed shopping decisions.

USDA Organic foods are becoming a common staple in shopping carts. To be certified organic, there are strict guidelines farmers must follow in the way they grow and process their crops and animals. While conventional products may be grown in synthetic soils treated with fertilizers, organic crops are produced using a list of approved substances used to act as pesticides. Animal health is managed through preventive measures, such as vaccination, however animals that must be treated with antibiotics can no longer be considered “organic”. Carefully chosen substances and processes are the key to developing products that have less impact on the environment.

Gluten sensitivity affects nearly three million Americans, making gluten free labeling a popular consumer request. Gluten is a protein that naturally gives wheat, rye, and barley products their texture. Gluten free claims are regulated by the FDA. If a product has a “gluten free” claim on the label, the product contains a level of gluten that is virtually undetectable (less than 20 ppm) and has not been exposed to cross-contamination.

Giant Eagle carries several Gluten Free brands. Check some of them out here!

Fair Trade claims and icons are attached to products that are produced sustainably and with a social mission. This movement was started to support disadvantaged farmers. You will see this claim primarily on honey, tea, chocolate, nuts, and coffee. Buying fair trade products protects the planet and the farmers. Supporting fair and ethical business practices is as simple as purchasing fair trade products. Fair Trade Certified is just an example of an icon that may appear on such products.

Genetically Modified Organisms are plants, animals, and organisms that have been intentionally engineered. Some crops that are commonly genetically modified are: corn, soybeans, summer squash, cotton, papaya, and canola. Products labeled with Non GMO claims are verified by the manufacturer not to contain bio-engineered ingredients. The Non GMO Project Verified logo is just one example of an icon that may appear on a product that is confirmed not to contain genetically modified ingredients.

Do you want to start eating better? Look for this bright red check mark from the American Heart Association to find foods that meet heart healthy nutritional standards. Products with this symbol contain limited amounts of saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, while also containing at least 10% daily value of beneficial nutrients like vitamins, minerals, protein, or fiber.

Compostable and biodegradable are often used interchangeably. While both types of products tell you that they will eventually degrade, products that are labeled as compostable are the ones that can be added to your composting bin. Being compostable means that the product will biodegrade, but in the break-down process, they release nutrients into the soil. These nutrients help plants and trees grow, making composting a sustainable alternative to polluting the environment with product packages that take longer to break down!

Veganism is steadily gaining more interest as consumers are becoming more aware of how the food they eat affects the environment. Vegan products are made without animal products or byproducts, making them cruelty-free goods. There are varying levels of veganism, so it is always good to check the ingredient list while purchasing vegan products to see if it matches your vegan lifestyle. Certified Vegan is one example of an icon that may appear on vegan products.

Meaning pure, proper, and suitable for consumption, kosher food complies with the dietary standards of traditional Jewish law. The three main kosher food groups include meat, dairy, and pareve (anything nonmeat or nondairy) and are prepared in order to follow religious tradition. Food with this label adheres to Jewish customs and recognizes Jewish traditions.

The whole grain label recognizes products that offer at least half a serving of authentic whole grains. There are three types of whole grain stamps: 100%, 50%+, and Basic. The 100% stamp means that the full serving, 16 grams, of its grains are whole grains. 50%+ is applied when at least half – 8 grams – are whole grain. The Basic label indicates that the product may contain more refined grain than whole grain.

When buying products with a Certified Humane label, you are receiving an item that comes from facilities that make it their mission to improve the lives of farm animals in food production. This label ensures that the food has met all standards put in place from Humane Farm Animal Care.