It’s bad enough that serving sizes are distorted (who drinks a third of a bottled beverage?!) and vitamin B has one hundred names, but then you must contend with things like “hormone free” chicken. Sounds like chicken I want to buy, but did you know? All chickens are hormone free.
That advertising was nothing but a gimmick.
So what can you believe?
Here a few common label mysteries revealed.
Fresh: Since 1998 the definition of fresh poultry means the meat has never been kept below 26*. Since freezing is 32*, this means the meat can be frozen, but it won’t be rock-solid at that temperature.
Natural: This indicates nothing has been added, like coloring or preservatives. It also means the product hasn’t been changed significantly, so it is much as it was when it was harvested. A label saying “natural” should also tell you why it is natural; i.e. “no preservatives added.” This label only applies to meat or eggs.
No Hormones: As I’ve already mentioned, the USDA prohibits the use of hormones in pork, poultry, and goats so this label isn’t allowed unless it says “federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.” This label can be used on beef if the farmer can provide documentation to the USDA that it is true. The same is true of No Antibiotics for all meat.
Organic: This label is made standard by the USDA. There are products farmers are allowed to put on foods that are labeled organic, so don’t assume it means no fertilizers or pest control at all.
Free Range: This indicates that the animals lived in a building with constant access to food, water, and the outside.
Cage Free: Similar to Free Range, but without the constant access to outside.
No Chemicals: You should actually never see this label because it isn’t allowed. Everything is made of chemicals. Remember water– H2O?
Grass Fed: For this label cattle must get most of their diet from grass, but can be supplemented with grain. It doesn’t have to be organic, so that would be a separate label.
Pasture Raised: This label means very little since there are no standards or certifications for it.
Humane: Again, a label that is not standard or regulated, therefore is up to the interpretation of the packaging company.
Locally Grown: Yet another non-standard label. Look for more information, like the town, farm, or milage to verify this one.
Not all labels are equal. While labels are monitored by the USDA, they allow for other programs with their own standards. So if you wanted to make your own certifications for “natural” you could put that label onto food, but it would need to have your program’s name on it, like “Certified Smith Natural” or whatever. Small farmers can also be exempt. A neighbor with two steers can call his beef “organic grass-fed” as much as he wants to.
So be aware and Happy Shopping!