Organic foods are regulated by the USDA, from maintenance of the soil and growing methods to processing and packaging.
The USDA provides strict oversight of the organic process, but does not endorse claims that foods are safer or more nutritious. However, organic foods are generally free of residue from pesticides, soil and water pollution, and chemical additives.
Labeling is all-important in determining the level of the organic process used. Stickers and labels will state specifically the level of compliance.
100% Organic. This certifies that the produce was produced only by organic means. For instance, eggs must come from chickens that have not been treated with growth hormones or antibiotics. The same applies for dairy, poultry, pork and beef. Vegetables and fruits must also be grown in a total organic habitat. These products are allowed to bear the USDA seal.
Organic. Any product that falls within 95%-99% organic growing or production. May include some synthetic products, but only those approved by the USDA. All ingredients must be listed. Can carry the USDA seal.
Made With Organic Ingredients. These are guaranteed 70%-94% naturally produced. Labeling may be placed on the front making this claim.
Contains Organic Ingredients. These will meet certain USDA standards, but are comprised of less than 70% natural ingredients. Labeling with claim must be placed on back of package.
Non-Certified Organic. Many growers and producers adhere to organic principles but may fall outside the range of the three-year testing period or are within a lower income category. In the third and final year of certified organic growing, an applicant may label products “in transition.”
Natural. This indicates every effort has been made to use organic processes. The USDA does not control or guarantee this claim.
The overall market remains small by comparison to conventionally-grown products. In addition, growing methods remain labor intensive. Organic products typically are more expensive for these reasons.
Some markets may display signs in organic produce sections, especially if fruits and vegetables are not individually labeled.
Organic produce and dairy in particular will typically have a shorter shelf life. Consume as soon as possible after purchase.