Understanding Food Labels

Food labels are common place on today’s menus, but often times they can be misconstrued and confusing to follow. Letting customers know you care about where their food comes from goes a long way toward customer loyalty. Use the terminology below to highlight your ingredients and menu items.


The USDA has implemented very strict rules for when the term “organic” can be used. The organic label does not indicate that the product has safety, quality or nutritional attributes that are any higher than conventionally raised products. In general, organic foods are usually not processed and contain no industrial solvents or synthetic food additives.

Free Range

The term free range is attributed to meat products. There’s no precise federal government definition of “free range,” so the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approves these label claims on a case-by-case basis. USDA generally permits the term to be used if livestock have access to the outdoors for some portion of the day, whether they choose to go outside or not. In practice, most livestock stay close to water and feed, which is usually located within an enclosed area. Product labeled as “organic” must also be “free-range,” but not all “free-range” produce is also “organic.”

All Natural

Under USDA regulations, a “natural” product has no artificial ingredients, coloring ingredients, or chemical preservatives, and is minimally processed — just enough to get it ready to be cooked.


GMOs (genetically modified organisms), are organisms in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur through traditional cross-breeding methods in order to introduce new traits or characteristics. Consumers tend to find GMOs less favorable, and many people in the United States and around the world are more likely to consume “Non-GMO” foods.

Antibiotic Free

Like free-range, antibiotic free is related to meat products. “Raised without Antibiotics” on a package indicates that the animal was raised without the use of antibiotics for animal health maintenance, disease prevention or treatment of disease. “Antibiotic free” is not allowed to be used on a food label but may be found in marketing materials, which are not regulated by the USDA.

Gluten Free

Currently, one of the most popular food labels is “Gluten Free.” Gluten free is defined as as a food that does not contain any of the following:

  • An ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreed of these grains
  • An ingredient derived from these grains and that has not been processed to remove gluten
  • An ingredient derived from these grains and that has been processed to remove gluten, if it results in the food containing 20 or more parts per million (ppm ) gluten

Don’t know what to buy? Checkout the full article in FoodTrends magazine for a list of items to utilize on your menu!

2 Responses to “Understanding Food Labels”

  1. Paul R. Levine

    While I am happy to see articles like this one, where is Nicholas at.
    I am a manufacturer of a Non-GMO,Gluten Free Rice Vinegar. I also manufacturer an Organic Gluten Free, Non-GMO Rice Vinegar.

    We know customers prefer healthy and quality products.

    I will be interested to see, if I get a reply.

    Thank you,

    Paul R. Levine
    American Foodservice National Sales Manager
    Marukan Vinegar

    • Chef Nicco

      Hello – Thank you for this information. I have sent your information to our category manager. Thank you.


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