Organic food: What you need to know

Farmer's Market - Organic VegetablesPredicted to reach approximately $456 billion by 2025, the organic food and beverage industry continues to grow and is currently one of the fastest expanding food markets in the U.S.

Analysts believe this growth comes from a number of factors including rising government support for organic agriculture, expansion of organic products beyond just health food stores, and the increasing demand consumers have placed for organic items in the food service industry.

All this demand can bring added pressure to organic food producers, who face the same challenges as traditional food producers, but often with fewer tools — like antibiotics or preservatives — to control some of the risks the food industry faces. In addition, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) brings added requirements to the food industry as a whole, including the organic market.

From a consumer point of view, what exactly are all the ins and outs of organic food compared to their traditionally grown counterparts? A recent article explains some of the main misunderstandings.

Organic or not? Check the label

Any product labeled as organic must be USDA certified. Only producers who sell less than $5,000 a year in organic foods are exempt from this certification; however, they’re still required to follow the USDA’s standards for organic foods.

If a food bears a USDA Organic label, it means it’s produced and processed according to the USDA standards. Products that are completely organic — such as fruits, vegetables, eggs or other single-ingredient foods — are labeled 100% organic and can carry the USDA seal.

Foods that have more than one ingredient, such as breakfast cereal, can use the USDA organic seal plus the following wording, depending on the number of organic ingredients:

  • 100% organic: To use this phrase, products must be either completely organic or made of all organic ingredients.
  • Organic: Products must be at least 95% organic to use this term.

Products that contain at least 70% organic ingredients may say “made with organic ingredients” on the label, but may not use the seal. Foods containing less than 70% organic ingredients can’t use the seal or the word “organic” on their product labels. They can include the organic items in their ingredient list, however.

Do ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ mean the same thing?

No, “natural” and “organic” are not interchangeable terms. You may see “natural” and other terms such as “all natural,” “free-range” or “hormone-free” on food labels. These descriptions must be truthful, but don’t confuse them with the term “organic.” Only foods that are grown and processed according to USDA organic standards can be labeled organic.

Is organic food more nutritious?

Probably not, but the answer isn’t totally clear yet. A recent study examined the past 50 years’ worth of scientific articles about the nutrient content of organic and conventional foods. The researchers concluded that organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs are not significantly different in their nutrient content.

How can Neogen help?

Neogen’s Food Safety Handbook for the Organic Industry has been developed in conjunction with experts in the organic food production industry as a guide for facilities wishing to implement a robust food safety program.

For example, organically produced food is at special risk for pathogens, including E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, Listeria and Listeria monocytogenes. Neogen offers different platforms for pathogen detection, as well as other food safety solutions that can fit into a food facility’s environmental monitoring program.

For more information on Neogen’s products and services for the organic market, click here.

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