What Does "Natural" on a Food Label Really Mean?
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What Does “Natural” on a Food Label Really Mean?

Posted on Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 at 7:00 am
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Fruit & Vegetable PlatterFood labels can be rather confusing sometimes. The word “natural” brings to mind food that is made from fresh ingredients. We tend to think that seeing the word “natural” on a food label means that there isn’t anything in the product to worry about. Here is a quick tutorial about what the words on food labels really mean.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the word “natural” , when placed on a food label, is difficult to define. The FDA information says “From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth.”

It goes on to note that the FDA “has not developed a definition for the use of the term natural or its derivatives”. They do not object to use of the word “natural” on a food label that doesn’t contain any added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a slightly different definition of the word “natural” (when it is used on packages of meat, poultry and egg products.) They define it as “minimally processed and excludes artificial flavor or coloring, chemical preservatives, and any other artificial or synthetic ingredient.”

Green City Blue Lake has further information. They point out that some of the words you see on food labels may not be regulated (or that the regulation is not enforced).

For example, a package of a product that says “natural” could contain antibiotics, growth hormones, or other similar chemicals. Meat producers who want to put the word “natural” on their product do have to submit an application at the time that the animal is slaughtered. The application provides details about the practices used throughout the life of the animal. Green City Blue Lake says that no inspections are conducted to discover if the details on the application are accurate.

What about the phrase “all natural” on a food label? The Food and Drug Administration does not differentiate between “natural” and “all natural”. You cannot automatically assume that a product labeled “all natural” is better than one labeled “natural”.

What can you do if you want to avoid some of the unpleasant things that can get into food? One way to do that is to buy organic products. A company cannot put the word “organic” on a food label like it can the word “natural”. The United States Department of Agriculture regulates the use of the word “organic” on a food label.

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