Tag Archives: food

What Does That Food Label Mean?

In the US, food labels are required for most prepared foods.  They are mandated to list several things such as calories and dietary fiber. The label must also include any vitamins or minerals added to enriched foods.  Specific additives such as color additives must also be listed.  Finally, the FDA requires labeling of ingredients that can impact human allergies, such as milk or nuts. All of these requirements are based on scientific and medical guidance.

Recently, companies have been adding labels to increase the marketability of their products by appealing to the health consciousness of the consumer. There are FDA-approved descriptors and claims that may be added to food labels. The FDA seeks voluntary compliance from the food companies for science based labeling.  The labels are to use statements that are truthful and not misleading. They should not state or imply that organic food is superior to traditional food products.

Antibiotic Free

  • “No Antibiotics added” indicate livestock was raised without the use of antibiotics. It should also indicate that the claim is USDA verified.
  • “Antibiotic-free” is not authorized or approved by the USDA.
  • All meat is free from antibiotics due to governmental regulations and farmers compliance. After treatment with antibiotics, there is a mandatory withdrawal period to ensure there are no antibiotic residues in the animal.
  • All milk is free from antibiotics for the same reason.  Cows being treated are milked separately and that milk is destroyed. The animal has a withdrawal period and milk is tested for residue before it can be returned to the herd. The milk is also retested before it is unloaded from the tank.

All Natural

  • According to the FDA, “it is difficult to define a food product as ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the ‘product of the earth'”.
  • The FDA has not developed a definition, but does not object to the use of the term if the “food does not contain artificial colors, flavors or synthetic substances.”
  • The USDA classifies “minimally processed foods without artificial ingredients” as natural.

No Hormones

  • “No added hormones” indicates no hormones were administered during the animal’s lifetime.
  • FACT: Hormones are approved for the use in beef cattle and lamb production.
  • FACT: The use of hormones is not permitted in pork or poultry.  Using “hormone-free” or “no hormones added” labels on pork or poultry is false advertising.

Free Range

  • The USDA does not define that term for labeling.
  • The required provisions for the “free range” label use include unlimited access to food, fresh water and continuous access to outdoors.
    • Continuous access to the outdoors can mean many things. They may have access, but may prefer to stay inside with the food and water. Windows count as access.
    • Access may mean more space, but with poultry, that can lead to increased aggression and injury and worse air quality. Yes, the “pecking order” is real.

Grass Fed

  • After weaning, livestock is fed nothing but grass and other forages. 
  • Other forages include grasses, cereal grains in the pre-grain state, hay, haylage, baleage, silage, legumes and crop residue.
  • Animals must have continuous access to grass during the growing season. There are no other regulations other than what is applied to conventionally raised livestock.


  • Organic foods are produced according to the standards in the Organic Food Production Act (OFPA). An Organic label means:
    • “The use of irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides and genetically modified organisms is not permitted.”
    • Livestock is produced according to health and welfare standards.  No antibiotics or growth hormones can be used. Livestock is fed with 100% organic feed and provided access to the outdoors.
    • 95% of the ingredients of a multi-ingredient food must also be organic.
    • Before products can be labeled USDA Organic, a USDA-accredited certifying agent must verify the practices as compliant.
  • According to the Mayo Clinic, organic food is not safer or healthier than conventionally grown foods.

USFDA "Labeling & Nutrition. July 2015
MedlinePlus. Food Labeling.15 May 14.
USFDA. "What is the meaning of 'natural" 8 Jun 15
National Chicken Council. "Chickopedia. 20 Jul 15
Consumers Reports. June 2012
Wall Street Journal.  19 May 2016
USDA Agriculture Marketing Service Grading, Certification & Verification. 29 Sep 08
USDA "Meat & Poultry Labeling Terms"  24 Oct 14
USDA "Organic Standards" 11 Jun 15
Mayo Clinic. "Organic foods: Are they safer?"  Mayo Clinic 9 Jun 14
Illinois Farm Bureau

Common allergens found in pet food

When it comes to food allergies, avoidance is key. However, while it may be easy to avoid foods you know you are allergic to, oftentimes allergic reactions occur when we are unaware that a potential allergen exists.

For example, a new study is demonstrating this to be true in the case of children who have common allergies to foods such as wheat, eggs, soy, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish, and also have pets. This is because some of those same allergens are also common ingredients in pet food.

Published in the Journal of Allergy Clinical Immunology, the study showed that of the 452 surveyed dog foods and 295 surveyed cat foods, 86.9% of them had at least one major allergen present. In addition, 43.9% of the foods tested had at least two major allergens present. According to the study, the frequency of individual foods in the screened pet foods was as follows: wheat 47.9%, egg 36.9%, fish 28.9%, soy 28.1%, milk 7.9%, shellfish 0.5%, peanut 0.3%, and tree nuts 0%.

Among dog foods, the most common food allergens were wheat, at 50.6%, egg at 33.2%, and soy at 25.7%, while among cat foods, the most common were fish (45.8%), wheat (43.7%), and egg (42.7%).

Read more.

Can I eat that? New app helps answer

Do you find yourself throwing away uneaten groceries you forgot were hanging out in the back of your refrigerator? Or wondering if you can still eat that bacon that you accidently left on your counter overnight?  Well, a new app from the USDA will now remind you when groceries are about to expire and will tell you if that questionable food is actually safe to eat.

The app, called Foodkeeper, is an updated version of a food safety brochure developed by the USDA with Cornell University and the nonprofit Food Science Institute.  “We thought; why not make it a little more interactive?” Chris Bernstein, team lead for food safety education at USDA, said in a recent article.

While the consumer is responsible for inputting the items they bought, the app then automatically calculates how long they’ll last, and sends you a notification so you have time to use them before they go bad……..   Continue here.

The app also helps circumvent unhelpful food labeling including the “best by,” “sell by” and “use by” dates. “There are so many terms that organizations put on foods, and they are not always clear what they mean,” Bernstein said.



Research Shows UV Light Can Kill Foodborne Pathogens on Certain Fruits

New research out of Washington State University shows that ultraviolet C light can help kill foodborne pathogens on certain fruits.

The light, which cannot penetrate opaque, solid objects, destroys the nucleic acid and disrupts the DNA of microorganisms. It’s been used for years to sanitize food contact surfaces, as well as drinking water.

Shyam Sablani, an associate professor in the WSU Department of Biological Systems Engineering, and his team tested the effect of the UVC light on apples, pears, strawberries, raspberries and cantaloupe contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 and Listeria monocytogenes.

The effectiveness of the treatment differed depending on the pathogen, the fruit’s surface, the dose of light and the length of exposure. For example, pears required a higher dose of light than apples to reduce E. coli, and raspberries needed more time than strawberries.  Read more.

Food Safety News, 23 July 15

Have you thought about your ice?

Ice is food.  It is in your drinks.  It surrounds and cools foods.

Some food service operators and their employees take that fact for granted. They don’t take proper precautionary measures to handle the product properly or the necessary preventive maintenance measures to ensure that the ice machine is clean, sanitary and operating safely.

Listed below are some best practices and questions to ask. Some are basic and some are worth taking a second look.

Check drains and drain tubing.  Where is the scoop kept?  Are there bugs around?  Has the machine been emptied, cleaned and sanitized lately? What do the gaskets look like?  Are employees trained about proper handling?  Do they use a glass that may chip or break or do they use their hands? How are the filters?  Did you know there are filters?

Read more.  Food Safety News, 17 July 2015

Fun Food Facts

Popcorn pops because water is stored in a small circle of soft starch in each kernel. As the kernel is heated, the water heats, the droplet of moisture turns to steam and the steam builds up pressure until the kernel finally explodes to many times its original volume.   Americans consume 17.3 billion quarts of popped popcorn each year.  The average American eats about 68 quarts.

Lettuce is a member of the sunflower family.  Almost all lettuce is packed right in the field.  About 25% of all iceberg lettuce is made into fresh cut salads.

In the US in 1998, hens produced 6,657,000,000 dozen eggs – 6.657 billion dozen!  After these eggs were laid, about two-thirds were sold in the shell and one third of them were broken – not be accident, but on purpose.  After the eggs are broken out of their shells, they can be made into liquid, frozen, dried and specialty egg products.  The egg shell may have as many as 17,000 tiny pores over its surface. Through them, the egg can absorb flavors and odors.  Storing them in their cartons helps keep them fresh.  Eggs age more in one day at room temperature than in one week in the refrigerator.

Apples are a member of the rose family.  In the winter, apple trees need to “rest” for about 900-1,000 hours below 45 degrees F in order to flower and fruit properly.  If you grew 100 apple trees from the seeds of one tree, they would all be different.

Agriculture Council of America