Food Certification Labels

Buying Guide

In today’s world of processed foods and industrial farming practices, ingredients and preparation procedures are often uncertain. To help clear up the confusion, many products are now "certified" by respected organizations to put consumers at ease and provide fast, easy identification of the products they’re looking for. From religious institutions to the U.S. Government, there are hundreds of groups that inspect, test, and certify thousands of food producers worldwide using an extensive range of standards.

Organizational & Government Certifications

“Where does my food come from, and what’s in it?” Questions like these are always at the forefront of the consumer’s conscience. Although the likelihood of questionable ingredients ending up in our food is slim these days, we do have to account for an ever-expanding market of specialty foods and increased consumer demands for transparency and social responsibility. These new challenges, including the emergence of organic food, fair trade standards, and the “Made in America” trend have forced government agencies to adopt new methods of verification to protect and inform consumers.

Organic Food Labels

Wherever you turn, you see signs and food labels for “natural organic food”, but beyond a sales point, what does that actually mean? Biologically, “organic” refers to any material that is carbon-based. When we use the word in conversation, we’re usually referring to something that occurs naturally. However, when it comes to food, the definition of organic becomes a bit more complicated.

Under federal law, if a product displays the word “organic” anywhere on its packaging or advertising, it must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. Those “organic ingredients” cannot contain, or be produced with, chemicals, additives, synthetics, pesticides, or genetically engineered substances.

Organic Certifications On Our Site

Symbol Explanation
According to the USDA, products that are certified USDA Organic must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients, leaving a five percent margin for non-organic ingredients like those listed above, as long as they are on an approved list. Manufacturers are required to list organic as well as non-organic ingredients on the product label along with the name of the organic certifier.

Gluten-Free

Many of today’s consumers are opting for gluten-free diets to combat celiac disease, lose weight, or avoid the symptoms of gluten intolerance. For a product to be gluten free, it obviously must lack the presence of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. A diet of this type rules out most grain products, but the consumption of rice, meats, fruits, vegetables, and potatoes are permitted.

There are multiple certifying bodies that offer gluten-free certification, each with their own criteria that includes testing the gluten content of the finished product. Most agencies require gluten-free products to contain less than 10 parts per million (ppm) of gluten, while the CSA Seal of Recognition requires them to contain less than 5 ppm. These bodies all have stricter standards than the FDA requirement of less than 20 ppm, and they also certify non-food products like lotions whereas the FDA only certifies FDA-regulated foods.

Gluten-Free Certifications on Our Site

Symbol Explanation
Products on our site are given the gluten-free seal once their status as a gluten-free product has been confirmed by the manufacturer.

Fair Trade

People often wonder, "What does fair trade mean?" Fair trade is a social movement with the goal of improving the lives of agricultural producers in the developing world by selling some of their goods at above-market prices. The movement also aims to educate workers on how to take advantage of the free market system in order to remain profitable, regardless of changes in the global market.

In most instances, farmers from developing countries will join to form a cooperative to pay the costs of conforming to the Fair Trade standards of production, and to generate enough crop yields to make a profit. Fair trade federations, of which there are several, collect small fees from the farmers for marketing purposes. Import organizations, which are certified by one or more of the federations, collect the product from the cooperatives to sell in overseas markets at a marked-up price.

To make a long story short, whenever you purchase a product with a fair trade symbol on it, a portion of your purchase is going towards helping support farmers and cooperatives in foreign countries, which in turn, support their local communities with jobs, social development projects, or a number of other benefits.

Fair Trade Certifications on Our Site

Symbol Explanation
This Fair Trade Certified symbol is used in the United States and Canada. In order for a product to legally display this image, it must come from a producer organization that has been inspected and certified by FLO-CERT, one of the two certification bodies responsible for labeling fair trade products.

Made in America

Unlike most certifications or seals, where an inspection process is undergone before a product may be labeled as organic, kosher, etc., products bearing the “Made in America” logo are not always examined before being labeled. Also, in this case, the certification is not awarded by the government, but rather the manufacturer adopts the seal in goodwill and is answerable to the federal government afterwards.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), only automobile manufacturers or those making items with textiles or wool are required by law to make the “Made in USA” claim. However, any business can choose to make that claim about any of their products. For a product to be considered “Made in America”, it must be entirely, or nearly entirely, made in the USA, and it should not contain any, or have almost no, foreign materials.

Manufacturers that choose to label their products as “Made in America” take upon themselves the responsibility of proving their products are indeed made in the USA if investigated by the FTC, and open themselves up to legal action and fines if their claims are proven false.

Made in America Certifications on Our Site

Symbol Explanation
This generic symbol appears on all the "Made in America" items on our site.

Religious Certifications

Long before the U.S. Government developed rules and regulations for food manufacture, two of the oldest and most popular religions in the world had their own specifications, procedures, and rules for the production of food and drink. Islam and Judaism each have their own distinct certification methods, halal and kosher respectively, which apply to every aspect of food production and consumption.

Halal

Halal is an Arabic word that translates to “lawful” or “permissible”. Although the term applies to a variety of life’s daily tasks, when it relates to food it concerns the composition of the product and the environment in which it was produced.

As far as food and drink goes, it may be easier to distinguish what is not halal than it is to label what is. All foods are considered halal unless they are strictly forbidden, or haram. Under Islamic law, the following food and drink are not permitted:

Forbidden for Consumption
Pork and its by-products
Animals which were dead before slaughtering
Alcoholic drinks and intoxicants
Animals which have not been slaughtered using the halal method
Carnivorous animals and birds of prey
Blood and blood by-products
Animals which have been contaminated with any of the above

Halal Certifications on Our Site

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The Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA) is a non-profit organization based in Chicago, Illinois committed to promoting and certifying halal food. IFANCA certifies food products in over 50 countries. They also hold endorsements from various halal groups in countries such as Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, and recognition by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service International Programs.
The Islamic Services of America (ISA) is recognized nationally and worldwide in over 70 countries as a legitimate and diligent certifier of halal goods. They carry endorsements from the Malaysian Halal Authority, and several other Southeast Asian groups, a region widely recognized as the most stringent in the world when it comes to enforcing halal standards.

Kosher

Most people encounter the Hebrew word “kosher” as a slang expression when someone’s describing something as “all good” or “legitimate”. In many ways, the slang definition accurately captures what kosher actually means in the religious sense of the word. For something to be kosher, literally “fit” or “proper”, it must meet the requirements of Jewish law as laid out in the written Torah (the Bible) and the Oral Torah (the Mishnah and Talmud).

Despite popular belief, kosher does not mean the food was blessed by a Rabbi. Much like halal food, the product is considered kosher as long as the means of production and the product itself conform to the laws and guidelines of the faith. In many instances it is beneficial or required for a Rabbi, or someone with Rabbinical training, to be present because of the complexity of kosher laws and the depth of knowledge required for proper certification. Listed below are four components that can help give a basic understanding of kosher food.

Components Criteria
Food Sources:

  • Land Mammals: Only animals with cloven hooves that chew their cud such as cattle, sheep, goats, deer, and bison are kosher. Pigs and rabbits are examples of forbidden food.

  • Sea life: Fish with fins and scales may be eaten, but shellfish such as lobsters, shrimp, clams, and crabs are all forbidden.

  • Fowl: Similar to the Quran, the Torah forbids its followers from eating birds of prey.

  • Rodents and insects are prohibited.

  • Any products derived from a forbidden animal such as milk, eggs, fat, etc. may not be eaten.

Kosher Meat Preparation:

  • The animal must not have died of natural causes

  • The slaughter, or shechitah, must be performed by someone of high integrity with a firm grasp of Jewish law

  • Meat must undergo a blood draining process known as kashering

Separation of Meat and Dairy (Pareve):

  • The Torah forbids eating meat and dairy together. Rabbis extended this to include poultry and meat in addition to the Talmud's restriction on cooking meat and fish together or serving them on the same plate.

  • Technically, this restriction applies to everything from utensils and cookware to dishwashers and kitchen towels, requiring a kosher household to have two sets of everything; one for meat, one for dairy.

  • Pareve, or "neutral" foods, contain neither dairy nor meat and can therefore be consumed at the same time as either of those two food groups.

Kosher for Passover:

  • During the eight days of Jewish Passover, leavened grains (barley, oat, rye, spelt, or wheat) are not to be consumed. Some even limit the types of beans they ingest.

  • Most kosher products make special note if they are fit for Passover use.

Kosher Certifications on Our Site

Symbol Explanation
The Beth Din of Johannesburg is a rabbinical court of Judaism belonging to the Union of Orthodox Synagogues in South Africa.
Founded in 1935 and based in NY, the Organized Kashrus Laboratories (OK) provides certification for companies such as Post, Swiss Miss, Yoplait, and Tropicana.
Located in Manchester, United Kingdom, the Beth Din of Manchester has been in existence in various forms since 1892 and has grown to become a world-renowned kosher authority.
Kay Kosher Supervision is based out of Kew Gardens City, NY.
Kehilla Kosher is based out of Cincinnati, Ohio.
KOF-K Kosher Supervision is based in New York. Apart from being one of the most recognized kosher certifiers in the United States, KOF-K was also the first to implement computer technology in its certification and supervision practices.
This KOF-K kosher certification symbol bears the same weight as the basic symbol. The “D” to the bottom right indicates that the product contains dairy components.
Thai Kashrut Services Limited is based in Bangkok, Thailand.
The Orthodox Union has been certifying goods for over 80 years and is one of the most trusted kosher supervisors in the world.
This Orthodox Union kosher certification symbol bears the same weight as the basic symbol. The “D” to the bottom right indicates that the product contains dairy components.
Quality Kosher Supervision is based in Canton, Ohio.
Star-K Kosher Certification is based in Baltimore, Maryland and has offices all over the United States, as well as in Israel, China, and India. They are one of the largest, most technologically integrated certifiers in North America.
Triangle K offers kosher supervision and certification services to a large number of major food brands in the United States including Del Monte ™, Hebrew National®, and Ocean Spray®.
The Vaad Hakashrus of Buffalo provides kosher certification and supervision to a number of restaurants and food producers in the greater Buffalo area.
The OV certification comes from Vaad Hoeir of St. Louis, the governing body of the St. Louis Orthodox Jewish community.