Demystifying Food Labels

Demystifying Food Lables

Making healthy choices at the grocery store can get complicated when you account for all the claims, seals, and certifications occupying space on your food’s packaging. These labels can unlock a wealth of knowledge into how your food was grown and processed if you just understand what they mean. From food safety to environmental standards, here’s your guide to the top common food labels and up-and-coming certifications you should know about.

USDA Organic

USDA Organic

Certified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

There are a few different ways to categorize “organic” and each label is used according to the percentage of organic ingredients present in the product. The USDA Organic Seal signifies that foods and livestock are grown without the use of toxic/synthetic fertilizers, GMOs, antibiotics, synthetic growth hormones, and artificial preservatives/flavors/colors. 

USDA 100% Organic: Every single ingredient fits the USDA organic standards.

USDA Organic: At Least 95% of the ingredients have been certified to be organic.

Made With Organic: At least 70% of the ingredients are certified to be organic. This label does not qualify for the USDA Organic seal and the organic ingredients must be specified on the packaging. Note, a certification is still required for this label.

Organic Ingredients: The product cannot be qualified as “organic” and the USDA label may not be used. This label does not require certification and does not protect against the inclusion of GMO ingredients.

Non-GMO Project Verified

Non-GMO Project Verified

Certified by The Non-GMO Project

This third party verification confirms that the ingredients have not been genetically modified. (Genetically modified organisms are any plants, animals, or other microorganisms that have had their genetic material altered in a laboratory.)

The Non-GMO Project Standard includes strict provisions for testing, segregation, and traceability in order to mitigate contamination risks—including a 0.9% action threshold for food inputs.

Certified Vegan

Certified Vegan

Certified by Vegan Action

Products cannot contain any animal ingredients, animal derived GMO’s, or involve any animal testing

Certified Plant Based

Certified Plant based

Certified by NSF International

Eligible products include meat, egg, and dairy alternatives or substitutes that do not have any animal-derived ingredients. 

Certified Gluten-Free

Certified Gluten-Free

Certified by the Gluten Intolerance Group’s Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO)

The largest gluten-free certification program, this label assures consumers that the food product contains 10ppm or less of gluten and does not contain any barley-based ingredients. 

Certified Humane Raised & Handled

Certified Humane Raised & Handled

Certified by the Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC)

The goal of this certification is to improve the lives of farm animals from birth through slaughter. The Humane Farm Animal Care® Standards specify that no animals be kept in cages, crates, or tie stalls, rather they must be able to do what comes naturally for their species. The animals are not treated with antibiotics or growth hormones and their food doesn’t contain animal by-products.

Free Range

Certified by the USDA

The USDA defines Free Range as allowing birds continuous access to the outdoors. This does not account for the amount of times the birds actually spend outdoors or how much space they are allowed.

Certified Humane Pasture Raised

Certified by Certified Humane

The USDA does not regulate the term “pasture raised” so Certified Humane has created their own requirement that gives hens at least 108 square feet each of outdoor space. Given their accessibility to the outdoors, these birds may have a diet that includes grass, bugs, and worms.


Certified by the USDA

Hens receive unlimited access to food and water and do not live in cages. Their exact amount of space is not regulated and their access to the outdoors is undefined.

American Grassfed

Certified by The American Grassfed Association

This seal guarantees that the meat, dairy, and pasture pork are fed only on grass and forage without the use of antibiotics or synthetic hormones. These animals do not live in confinement and are all born and raised on American family farms. 

Fair Trade Certified

Fair Trade Certified

Certified by Fair Trade USA

The business doesn’t use child or forced labor and offers fair wages, safe working conditions, and the right to unionize to their employees. Goods must be produced in a way that supports the local community environmentally, economically, and socially. 


Certified by the USDA

This label may be used on beef that has not been treated with hormones. May also see rBGH-FREE, which is a genetically engineered growth hormone

No Antibiotics

Certified by the USDA

Red meat and poultry with this seal have not been treated with antibiotics.


Certified by the USDA

These food products do not contain any artificial ingredients or colors and are minimally processed . Food labeled as natural must also call out what makes it natural like “no artificial ingredients”. 

Non Glyphosate Certified

Non Glyphosate Certified

Certified by Biochecked

This certification means that foods and drinks are free from the harmful weed killer, glyphosate, found in Bayer’s (formerly Monsanto’s) Roundup.

Bee Better Certified™

Bee Better Certified

Certified by Oregon Tilth

Farms who qualify for this label must provide a habitat for bees and protect them from pesticide exposure.

Regenerative Organic Certified

Certified by Regenerative Organic Alliance

This label goes further than organic standards to encompass practices focused on animal welfare, soil health, and workers’ rights. The carbon capturing regenerative farming practices associated with this label effectively fight the warming of our planet.

Rainforest Alliance Certified™

Rainforest Alliance Certified

Certified by the Rainforest Alliance Project

This seal is meant to qualify that the farms and businesses associated meet social, environmental, and economic sustainability standards.

Certified B Corporation

Certified B Corporation

Certified by B Corporation

Companies who meet the highest standards in environment, social, transparency, and legal accountability with an effort to balance profit with the betterment of society can qualify for this seal. Those that hold this title work to reduce inequality, lower levels of poverty, improve the environment, and beyond.

Moms Meet Seal of Approval

Moms Meet Seal of Approval

Certified by Moms Meet

This seal is awarded to products that have received exceptional ratings from Moms Meet Mom Ambassadors and their group members

This story originally appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of KIWI Magazine. Read the full issue here, or check out the latest from KIWI Magazine.