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Types of Food Certifications and Labels

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.

Gluten-Free Food Labels

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

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

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

USDA Organic: 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.

Non-GMO Food Labels

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are plants that have been genetically altered through engineering in a lab. GMOs are commonly used to increase the size or flavor of the product, or to act as a pesticide for the plant.

GMOs are regulated by the FDA and meet their standard set of safety requirements required by other plant-based food products. Despite this approval, the Institute for Responsible Technology has cited several reasons to avoid GMOs, which include health and environmental concerns.

Non-GMO Certifications On Our Site

Non-GMO: Items with the Non-GMO certification do not contain any genetically modified ingredients.

Non-MSG Food Labels

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is glutamic acid in salt form, an amino acid found naturally in the body and in many food products. It is commonly used to enhance the flavor of foods. MSG is FDA approved, and scientific research has been conducted in an attempt to understand the potential effects of MSG. Though some consumers identify themselves as being sensitive to the ingredient, no conclusive evidence has been found.

Non-MSG Certifications on Our Site

Non-MSG: Products on our site are given the non-MSG seal if they do not contain any monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Fair Trade Food Labels

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

Fair Trade: 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 Food Labels

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

Made in America: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

Halal Italia: Founded in 2010, this group certifies Italian food products, along with products in a variety of other industries.
Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA): A non-profit organization based in Chicago, Illinois committed to promoting and certifying halal food in over 50 countries. They also hold endorsements from various Halal groups in countries such as Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, and is recognized by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service International Programs.
Islamic Society of the Washington Area (ISWA): Managed by the USA Halal Chamber of Commerce, is internationally recognized as a full service commerce and professional certification entity for the promotion and understanding of Halal standards. Items with this certification have been Halal certified and are permissible under Islamic law.
National Independent Halaal Trust: Established as NIHT in 1992. Aims for high Halaal standards consistent with Sharia Law. Offices based in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town.

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

Atlanta Kosher Commission: Based in the Orthodox community, Atlanta Kosher Commission is a nationally accepted nonprofit agency. The organization focuses on certifying companies and products in the southeast U.S., but also reaches businesses in the food industry throughout the U.S.
Chicago Rabbinical Council Kosher: Located in Chicaco, IL, Chicago Rabbinical Council is North America's largest regional Orthodox organization. The nonprofit's kosher certification is available worldwide.
Kashruth Council of Canada (COR): Largest kosher certifier in Canada and global leader in the kosher industry. Certifies products and facilities in Canada and worldwide.
Kay Kosher Supervision: Based out of Kew Gardens City, NY.
Ko Dairy Kosher: Certified by Ko Kosher Service, which founded in 1940. Ko Kosher Service is based in Philadelphia, PA and supervises companies worldwide.
KOF-K Kosher Supervision: 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.
KOF-K Kosher Supervision (Dairy): Bears the same weight as the basic symbol. The “D” to the bottom right indicates that the product contains dairy components.
Kosher Supervision of America (KSA): Largest recognized and accepted certification in the U.S. Certifies worldwide to ensure products meet even the most demanding kosher requirements.
MK Kosher: Based in Canada, MK certifies that products meet the highest standards of kashruth.
Organized Kashrus Laboratories (OK): Founded in 1935 and based in NY, the Organized Kashrus Laboratories (OK) provides certification for companies such as Post, Swiss Miss, Yoplait, and Tropicana.
Organized Kashrus Laboratories Dairy (OK Dairy): Bears the same weight as the OK symbol and certifies that the product came from a kosher animal, all ingredients are kosher and free from meat, and the product was produced on kosher equipment.
Orthodox Union: Has been certifying goods for over 80 years and is the largest and one of the most trusted kosher supervisors in the world.
Orthodox Union (Dairy): Bears the same weight as the basic symbol. The “D” to the bottom right indicates that the product contains dairy components..
Quality Kosher Supervision: Based in Canton, Ohio.
Shield Star K: Committee of kosher experts certifies products globally. Ensures that products meet the highest kosher standards.
Star-D (Kosher Dairy): Bears same weight as teh basic symbol, complying with all standards, except Star-D products are not cholov yisroel, but instead cholov stam.
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..
Va'ad Hakashrus of Buffalo Kosher (BVK): BVK was founded in 1981 as a service to the local community. This reputation has led the agency's certifications to be accepted everywhere today.
Vaad Hoeir of St. Louis Kosher (OV): The OV certification comes from Vaad Hoeir of St. Louis, MO, the governing body of the St. Louis Orthodox Jewish community.

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