How to know if packaged food is organic


Confused by organic food labeling? Author and organic food expert Anna Lappe explains what the terminology means.

How to know if packaged food is organic

Sometimes it's hard to distinguish organic food by its packaging. Fresh produce is either is or isn't organically grown. But packaged foods are trickier. Here's what you need to know about organic food labels:

  • Look for the USDA certified organic seal. This means at least 95% of the ingredients are organic.
  • If you see a label that says 70% organic, that means that 70% of the ingredients are organic.
  • If the product has less than 70% organic ingredients, it can't feature an organic label, so you have to read the ingredients on the package. Don't be fooled by products that you think are organic because their names or packaging look like they are.

Hi I'm Anna Lappe, co-author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen. I'm here at Whole Foods to talk about organic foods.

Do you find that the labeling for organic food can be a little bit confusing? It doesn't have to be. Of course when it comes to produce it's really easy--it's either organic or it's not organic. For processed food it might seem a little more complicated, but let me explain it to you.

Whenever you see a product, any processed food product that has this USDA organic seal on it, it's your guarantee that 95% of those ingrediants are organic. Now the next level down is the made with 70% organic ingrediants like this Luna bar. And as you can probably guess, what that mean is that 70% of the ingrediants in this Luna bar are organic.

Any product that has less than 70% organic in it won't have anything on the front packaging and you'll have to actually look into the ingrediants list. So with this cereal for instance, it looks really natural to me and I picked it up and I looked into the ingrediants bar, but I didn't find any organic ingrediants. Just like I didn't find any organic ingrediants in this cereal box.

So the only way to really know you're getting organic is to look for either the seal on the front, the made with 70% organic label, or the organics in the actually ingrediants list. 

meet theexpert
  • Anna Lappe

    Anna Lappe Co-founder, Small Planet Institute Anna Lappé is a national bestselling author and public speaker, known for her work on sustainable agriculture, food politics and social change. Named one of Time Magazine’s Eco-Who’s Who, Anna has been featured in The New York Times, Gourmet, O-The Oprah Magazine, Domino, Food & Wine, and Vibe, among many other outlets. She is the co-author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen and Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet. With her mother, Anna co-founded the Small Planet Insti more about this expert »

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