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Posts tagged: food labels

Organic 101: Understanding the “Made with Organic***” Label

Organic is one label that most consumers are familiar with, but understanding what “organic” really means can help consumers make informed choices.  If a product meets these requirements, its label may include a statement like, “Made with organic oats and cranberries.”  A more generic statement like, “Made with organic ingredients,” is not allowed.

Organic is one label that most consumers are familiar with, but understanding what “organic” really means can help consumers make informed choices. If a product meets these requirements, its label may include a statement like, “Made with organic oats and cranberries.” A more generic statement like, “Made with organic ingredients,” is not allowed.

This is the sixteenth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

Deciphering food labels and marketing claims can be a challenge for the average consumer.  Companies use production and handling claims as a way to differentiate their products in the marketplace. Organic is one label that most consumers are familiar with, but understanding what “organic” really means can help consumers make informed choices.

USDA certified organic products have strict production and labeling requirements.  The U.S. organic industry is regulated by the National Organic Program (NOP), part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.  Certified organic products are produced without excluded methods such as genetic engineering or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  The organic standards are designed to allow natural substances in organic farming while prohibiting synthetic substances. Read more »

Organic 101: Ensuring Organic Integrity through Inspections

Organic inspector Elizabeth Whitlow at an organic vineyard inspection.  Every organic operation involved between the farm and market is inspected to verify compliance with the USDA organic regulations. Photo courtesy ccof.org.

Organic inspector Elizabeth Whitlow at an organic vineyard inspection. Every organic operation involved between the farm and market is inspected to verify compliance with the USDA organic regulations. Photo courtesy ccof.org.

This is the fifteenth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

USDA certified organic products are produced and sold around the world, many originating from over 17,700 organic operations right here in the United States. The USDA organic label assures consumers that products have been produced through approved methods and that prohibited substances, like synthetic pesticides, have not been used. I am often asked how the USDA verifies organic claims, and whether organic operations are inspected.

In order to sell, label, or represent products as organic in the United States, operations must be certified. The National Organic Program, part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, accredits private, foreign, and State entities called certifying agents to certify and inspect organic operations.

So how does this all work? First, the operation would apply for certification through a certifying agent. The certifier will ask for information including a history of substances applied to land during the previous three years, and an Organic System Plan describing the practices and substances to be used. The certifier reviews applications to verify that practices comply with USDA organic regulations, and then an inspector conducts an on-site inspection. Read more »

Quality You Can Trust

Grapes like these may soon have the USDA Quality Monitored seal on their packaging.

Grapes like these may soon have the USDA Quality Monitored seal on their packaging.

When you think of what really makes fruit and vegetables stand out it usually comes down to quality.  Determining quality – making sure your fresh food looks, smells, feels and tastes just the way you expect it to – is what USDA’s Quality Monitoring Program (QMP) does.

The program, run by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Specialty Crops Inspection Division, allows produce suppliers and others to have products inspected by USDA based on specific internal standards or U.S. grade standards.  As a neutral third-party, USDA evaluates various commodities through QMP – everything from olive oil to canned, frozen and fresh fruits and vegetables. Read more »

“USDA Tender” – A Cooperative Effort with the U.S. Beef Industry

USDA worked with academia and industry over the past several years to develop a system to determine beef tenderness, using an objective scale to ensure that cuts with the new label consistently meet consumer expectations.

USDA worked with academia and industry over the past several years to develop a system to determine beef tenderness, using an objective scale to ensure that cuts with the new label consistently meet consumer expectations.

Tenderness is one of the most significant factors affecting the overall consumer acceptance of beef cuts.  Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Beef Quality Grading program is a useful tool in predicting overall consumer acceptance of beef, other factors besides those assessed by the USDA Quality Grading System affect beef tenderness.  In other words, beef that may not grade to the highest USDA Quality Grade (USDA Select or Choice vs. USDA Prime) may in fact be rated just as tender by consumers.  Similarly, certain cuts of beef, no matter how high their USDA Quality Grade, may not be as tender for some consumers.

To address these issues and provide consumers with a more useful purchasing tool, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) worked with academia and industry to develop an accurate system to determine when consumers perceive beef cuts to be either tender or very tender.  Based on an objective scale, the system ensures that specific beef cuts consistently meet these established thresholds.  Thanks to the collaborative efforts between AMS and these groups, approved beef processors can now market products as USDA-Certified Tender or Very Tender through product labeling, advertisements, and promotions. Read more »

Organic 101: Five Steps to Organic Certification

Reece Latron uses a tractor to carry baskets of greens harvested from Amy's Organic Garden in Charles City, VA. While the certification system is rigorous to ensure integrity of the USDA organic label, thousands of producers and handlers continue to invest in these activities to market their products as organic. USDA Photos by Lance Cheung

Reece Latron uses a tractor to carry baskets of greens harvested from Amy's Organic Garden in Charles City, VA. While the certification system is rigorous to ensure integrity of the USDA organic label, thousands of producers and handlers continue to invest in these activities to market their products as organic. USDA Photos by Lance Cheung

This is the eighth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

The USDA organic label is backed by a certification system that verifies farmers or handling facilities located anywhere in the world comply with the USDA Organic Regulations. Certification entails five steps: Read more »

Organic 101: The Lifecycle of Organic Food Production

This is the fifth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

Through defined farming practices, organic principles promote ecological balance, foster the cycling of resources, and conserve biodiversity. To understand what that means when it comes to the label on your food, those principles require some more explanation.

Let’s take a closer look at a snapshot of sustainable food production, using the lifecycle of organic cheddar to get a fuller picture. Read more »