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Food Labels We Look For and What They Really Mean

Food Labels We Look For and What They Really Mean

Various agencies and organizations certify or approve foods, but what do their labels actually promise or guarantee?

As you walk through the grocery store, it’s not uncommon to pick up a product — say a carton of eggs, for example— and see that the package is plastered with an abundance of labels bearing various terms and certifications, all calling for your attention: Organic! Cage-Free! Non-GMO! All Natural!

But what do these certifications actually mean? Do they make guarantees to the consumer or are they just marketing ploys?

It depends.

There are dozens of both independent and government-regulated certification stamps decorating food products in our grocery stores. The fact is anyone can set up a group with its own logo and offer to put it on foods. And some food labeling words that have no concrete definition or legal meaning (I’m looking at you, “all-natural”).

To illustrate consumer confusion, the author of a recent NPR story stood outside a Whole Foods store in Washington D.C. and asked consumers if they'd rather buy a carton of eggs labeled "non-GMO" and another tagged "certified organic." They were torn. As one customer put it, “They both sound good;” then she chose to purchase the non-GMO product over the certified organic product, solely because it was cheaper. As it happens, certified organic foods generally are indeed more expensive — but all certified organic foods are, by definition, non-GMO, while non-GMO foods don't need to be organic.

Are consumers being purposely misled, then, or are we just uninformed? The latter would be understandable considering the sheer number of labels out there; click here for help in deciphering some of the most important of them.


The FDA food allergen label law requires foods to state if they contain a major food allergen (milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, sesame, fish, crustacean shellfish). Foods that contain these allergens must say so in plain English. But, there are many foods and products that are not covered by the law, so it is still important to know how to read a label for allergens. Items that may use "hidden" names:

  • Foods that are not regulated by the FDA
  • Cosmetics and personal care products
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • Pet food, toys and crafts

It is important to read every label, every time. Use our guides to help you find hidden allergens in your products. Small travel-size cards are also available to print.


The FDA food allergen label law requires foods to state if they contain a major food allergen (milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, sesame, fish, crustacean shellfish). Foods that contain these allergens must say so in plain English. But, there are many foods and products that are not covered by the law, so it is still important to know how to read a label for allergens. Items that may use "hidden" names:

  • Foods that are not regulated by the FDA
  • Cosmetics and personal care products
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • Pet food, toys and crafts

It is important to read every label, every time. Use our guides to help you find hidden allergens in your products. Small travel-size cards are also available to print.


The FDA food allergen label law requires foods to state if they contain a major food allergen (milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, sesame, fish, crustacean shellfish). Foods that contain these allergens must say so in plain English. But, there are many foods and products that are not covered by the law, so it is still important to know how to read a label for allergens. Items that may use "hidden" names:

  • Foods that are not regulated by the FDA
  • Cosmetics and personal care products
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • Pet food, toys and crafts

It is important to read every label, every time. Use our guides to help you find hidden allergens in your products. Small travel-size cards are also available to print.


The FDA food allergen label law requires foods to state if they contain a major food allergen (milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, sesame, fish, crustacean shellfish). Foods that contain these allergens must say so in plain English. But, there are many foods and products that are not covered by the law, so it is still important to know how to read a label for allergens. Items that may use "hidden" names:

  • Foods that are not regulated by the FDA
  • Cosmetics and personal care products
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • Pet food, toys and crafts

It is important to read every label, every time. Use our guides to help you find hidden allergens in your products. Small travel-size cards are also available to print.


The FDA food allergen label law requires foods to state if they contain a major food allergen (milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, sesame, fish, crustacean shellfish). Foods that contain these allergens must say so in plain English. But, there are many foods and products that are not covered by the law, so it is still important to know how to read a label for allergens. Items that may use "hidden" names:

  • Foods that are not regulated by the FDA
  • Cosmetics and personal care products
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • Pet food, toys and crafts

It is important to read every label, every time. Use our guides to help you find hidden allergens in your products. Small travel-size cards are also available to print.


The FDA food allergen label law requires foods to state if they contain a major food allergen (milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, sesame, fish, crustacean shellfish). Foods that contain these allergens must say so in plain English. But, there are many foods and products that are not covered by the law, so it is still important to know how to read a label for allergens. Items that may use "hidden" names:

  • Foods that are not regulated by the FDA
  • Cosmetics and personal care products
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • Pet food, toys and crafts

It is important to read every label, every time. Use our guides to help you find hidden allergens in your products. Small travel-size cards are also available to print.


The FDA food allergen label law requires foods to state if they contain a major food allergen (milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, sesame, fish, crustacean shellfish). Foods that contain these allergens must say so in plain English. But, there are many foods and products that are not covered by the law, so it is still important to know how to read a label for allergens. Items that may use "hidden" names:

  • Foods that are not regulated by the FDA
  • Cosmetics and personal care products
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • Pet food, toys and crafts

It is important to read every label, every time. Use our guides to help you find hidden allergens in your products. Small travel-size cards are also available to print.


The FDA food allergen label law requires foods to state if they contain a major food allergen (milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, sesame, fish, crustacean shellfish). Foods that contain these allergens must say so in plain English. But, there are many foods and products that are not covered by the law, so it is still important to know how to read a label for allergens. Items that may use "hidden" names:

  • Foods that are not regulated by the FDA
  • Cosmetics and personal care products
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • Pet food, toys and crafts

It is important to read every label, every time. Use our guides to help you find hidden allergens in your products. Small travel-size cards are also available to print.


The FDA food allergen label law requires foods to state if they contain a major food allergen (milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, sesame, fish, crustacean shellfish). Foods that contain these allergens must say so in plain English. But, there are many foods and products that are not covered by the law, so it is still important to know how to read a label for allergens. Items that may use "hidden" names:

  • Foods that are not regulated by the FDA
  • Cosmetics and personal care products
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • Pet food, toys and crafts

It is important to read every label, every time. Use our guides to help you find hidden allergens in your products. Small travel-size cards are also available to print.


The FDA food allergen label law requires foods to state if they contain a major food allergen (milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, sesame, fish, crustacean shellfish). Foods that contain these allergens must say so in plain English. But, there are many foods and products that are not covered by the law, so it is still important to know how to read a label for allergens. Items that may use "hidden" names:

  • Foods that are not regulated by the FDA
  • Cosmetics and personal care products
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • Pet food, toys and crafts

It is important to read every label, every time. Use our guides to help you find hidden allergens in your products. Small travel-size cards are also available to print.


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