It is the responsibility of the Food and Drug Administration for assuring that foods sold in the US are safe, wholesome and properly labeled for either domestic or food from foreign countries. The laws require that labels on food including produce be truthful and not misleading, but the laws don't regulate definitions for all of the labels that you may see.
FDA Regulated Labels:
- Country of Origin: Perishable produce must be labeled with the country where it was grown.
- USDA Organic: This label indicates that the produce was produced on a certified farm that follows defined organic procedures, such as non-use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.
- Nutrition Facts Label: If packaging makes a claim about nutrients, the Food and Drug Administration requires a nutrition label.
- Excellent Source Of/High In: A label bearing this claim must contain at least 20 percent of the daily requirement of that nutrient in a serving. A "Good Source Of" label indicates that one serving has 10-19 percent of the daily dose of the named nutrient.
- Fresh: Fresh means that the food is in its raw state and has not been frozen or subjected to any form of thermal processing or any other form of preservation.
- Washed/Triple-Washed/Ready to Eat: Most produce gets a rinse prior to marketing. However, a washing claim may only mean that the produce has had dirt or grit removed. It is not a guarantee that it is bacteria-free.
- Pesticide-Free: This label could mean one of two things: 1) no pesticides were used during growing; or 2) pesticide residue has been washed away. There's no real way to know unless it bears an organic label.
- Hydroponically Grown/Hydroponic: This label generally means that the produce was grown in a greenhouse using a nutrient solution instead of soil.
- Non-GMO: The only possible GMOs to be found in the produce aisles include potatoes, squash/pumpkins, papayas, sweet corn, and soy beans (edamame).
- Gluten Free: Fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten free. This is a true claim but misleading in meaning.
- No Preservatives/Free from Artificial Ingredients: Preservatives or artificial ingredients are not usually added to fresh produce making this label misleading on nearly all produce.
- Produce code stickers: The stickers on produce are for scanning the PLU (price look-up) number at the checkout and may share information about the produce. However, there are no governing or regulating laws and are voluntary by the producer.
- Four-digit code: Produce with a four-digit code beginning with a 3 or 4 means the produce was probably conventionally grown with the possible use of pesticides. The code for conventionally grown bananas is 4011.
- Five-digit code beginning with "9": Fruits and vegetables grown organically have a five-digit code starting with a "9". An organically grown banana's PLU would be 94011.
- Five-digit code beginning with "8": Genetically modified produce (has genes from other organisms) stickers also have five digits, but these codes begin with the number "8." Remember there only five items likely to be found in the produce aisles that have been genetically modified so this is a rarely seen code.
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