Organic Shopping Cheat Sheet

When it comes to eating organic, make sure you're getting what you pay for with this shopping cheat sheet.

If you're looking to minimize your exposure to pesticides and artificial hormones, organic is the way to go. But in a sea of shelves flooded with products, how do you know that what you are buying is actually organic? It's simple. All you need to do is learn to decode the packaging and percentages. With this cheat sheet, you'll find out how you can shop smart for organic food and get the most for your money.

What does organic mean?

Before products can be labeled as USDA organic, they must be certified by a USDA-accredited agent. According to the USDA, here's what an organic seal means for…

Crops: No irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were used to produce the crops.

Livestock: In raising animals, producers "met animal health and welfare standards, did not use antibiotics or growth hormones, used 100% organic feed, and provided animals with access to the outdoors." While this applies to land animals, keep in mind that there is currently no such thing as USDA certified organic fish.

Multi-ingredient foods: The product has been verified to contain "95% or more certified organic content." Any ingredients that are specifically identified on the label as organic have been certified as such.

Keep in mind that some foods, particularly from local or small farmers, may be produced using organic standards but have not been officially certified as organic.

How do I know if what I'm buying is organic?

Most organic food is labeled with a green USDA organic seal, which certifies that it has 95% or more organic content.

For a food to be labeled 100% organic, all ingredients, including processing aids, have to be certified as organic.

Foods that say they are made "with organic ingredients" must be made up of at least 70% certified organic ingredients. The remaining ingredients do not need to be organically produced, but they can't be made using certain methods.

One trick to use on loose fruits and vegetables is to check out the price look up (PLU) sticker. Organic products are more likely to have a five-digit code beginning with a nine, as opposed to four digits for most conventionally-grown produce.

Is organic food more expensive?

Organic foods are often, but not always, slightly more expensive than their conventional counterparts. In general, you can expect to pay anywhere from 20% more to double the price for organic foods because they often cost more to produce. However, some organic foods like bread or coffee may actually cost the same or even less, so be sure to price check before writing off an organic choice.

To find out what foods are okay to buy non-organic and which are worth spending extra to get the organic option, check out this list.

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