Shopping Guide: What do all those Labels Mean?

by Katie Bock

Shopping for food can be a confusing and long process.  Especially with all the different labels, and what do they even mean.  What is Healthy, what is not?  What does natural mean verses organic?  The questions go on and on.  Here is my solution…Learn what they mean and remember the ones that are important to you. 

Before I tell you what all the different labels mean, my number one tip is.  Shop the parameter.  Most grocery stores are set up with produce, meat, dairy and fresh foods on the outsides of the store.  The inner aisle are where shopping becomes tricky.

What do the Labels Mean?

Common Labels

  • Organic– When produce or a product is labeled organic the farm or company must met certain guidelines including…
    • No Use of GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) or irradiation.
    • Abstain from use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides & sewage sludge (Three years prior to certification and continued throughout time.)
    • Outdoor access and pasture provided for livestock.
    • Practice crop rotation, positive soil building, and conservation.
    • No antibiotic or hormone used on animals
    • Animals 100% fed organic feed
    • Avoid contamination
    • Keep records of everything

These guidelines are verified by a govern agency. 

  • USDA Organic– All above listed guidelines verified. Also means 95-100% of ingredients are organic.  No Trans Fat or Hydrogenation in organic products.
  • Organic Ingredients– 70-95% of ingredients are organic. If less the 70% organic it can be labeled on the side of product.
  • Natural– There is no standard to use the word natural. Currently there are no guidelines that follow this word.  The exception is meat and poultry, natural meats and poultry can undergo minimal processing and cannot have any artificial ingredients.  This does not mean organic, sustainable, hormone free or humanly raised. 
  • Healthy– Has limited amounts of cholesterol and sodium and be low in saturated fat.
  • Fair Trade– This means works have been paid a fair wage and had acceptable working environments. Many times this is farmers and workers in developing countries. 
  • GMO–FREE, NON-GMO– Labeled with this if they are produced without GMOs or Genetically Modified Organisms. The NON-GMO Project has a verifying process.  Here is a link to their website.

Commonly Found on Meat, Poultry, Eggs, Dairy

  • Free-Range – This label is used on eggs and poultry and only defined by USDA. It simple means the animals spent most of their time outdoors.  This does not ensure antibiotic-free, cruelty-free.  There is no verification for this label
  • Cage free– similar to free-range, there are no verifications. Simple means animals were not raised in a cage. 
  • Pasture Raised– This label means the animal was raised on a pasture allowed to live naturally, feeding on grass and plants. Similar to Grass-fed, Pasture raised shows the animal was raised outdoors
  • rBGH-Free or rBST-Free– This means dairy cows were not given bovine growth hormone (rBGH) or bovine somatotropin (rBST) to increase their milk production. Organic Milk is rBGH free. 

Wow, so much to think about right?  My suggestion is to write down the ones that stand out to you.  The labels you want to remember.  Then stick that paper in your purse or wallet to reference when you need it.


Katie Bell

PS I work would love to work with you on finding the best foods for your Family, email me let’s set up a consultation

Information from

Sustainable Table


NON GMO Project


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