Cut through the confusion with this organic food primer.
The “organic” food label is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and food manufacturers and producers undergo a certification process in order to use the “USDA Organic” seal on their products. Find out which foods are worth buying organic and what to look for when shopping for organic foods with this guide from investigative journalist Larry Olmsted, the Organic Trade Association CEO Laura Batcha, Kroger vice president Jill McIntosh, and Organic Valley farmer Regina Beidler.
The Meaning of Organic Food Labels
100% Organic: Indicates the product contains 100 percent organic ingredients.
Organic: Indicates the product contains a minimum of 95 percent organic ingredients and up to 5 percent of ingredients may be nonorganic agricultural products.
Natural: Indicates the product does not contain artificial ingredients or added color (in meats or poultry); the product may contain antibiotics, pesticides, or other similar chemicals.
When to Go Organic
There are certain fruits and vegetables that are more susceptible to bugs and pests, making them prime targets for pesticide treatment. Most experts recommend buying organic strawberries, tomatoes, and spinach. Smaller, thin-skinned fruits such as apples, cherries, grapes, peaches, and pears, are also worth buying organic.
Testing on animal proteins and dairy products has shown that these foods may contain residual antibiotics. To eliminate antibiotics completely, you can buy organic meats, poultry, and dairy foods instead. If organic meats and dairy are more expensive at your local grocery store, buy in bulk when possible and freeze extra food for future consumption. Check coupons and prices on various options. For example, it may be cheaper to buy a whole chicken and use all the meat, instead of buying chicken parts.
For organic nuts, spices, dried beans, and diced tomatoes, stock up when stores have a sale and keep these pantry staples on hand for easy and diverse meals all year long.
When to Skip Organic
You can buy conventional fruits and vegetables with thicker skins and outer layers, such as avocados, onions, and pineapples.
Organic seafood is a misnomer as there is no set standard for its labeling. Although it is not illegal to use this type of labeling, it does not necessarily mean you’re buying a better or healthier fish.