The ‘Natural’ Label: What In The Fresh Hell Does That Even Mean?!

Welcome to another edition of The Nutrition Overlords Knowledge Bombs®: Natural Label Edition

I promise to keep this one short(ish).

So you're walking down the aisle of your local grocery store and you pass by the eggs. Other than there being approximately 30 different brands, you notice some of them carry this fancy 'natural' label (and probably cost $2 more per dozen). So what does this ambiguous label mean anyway?

First, we have to break foods into one of two categories, because heaven forbid food labeling be simple. In the first group, we have meat, poultry, and egg products. In the second group, we have everything else. When the term 'natural' is applied to meat, poultry, and eggs it actually means something! In the USDA's Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book (a joyous read, I assure you) under the Natural Claims section (page 116) it states that meat/poultry/egg products carrying the natural label must meet these two standards [1]:

1 – “The product does not contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, or chemical preservative (as defined in 21 CFR101.22), or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient.”
2 – “The product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed. Minimal processing may include: (a) those traditional processes used to make food edible or to preserve it or to make it safe for human consumption, e.g., smoking, roasting, freezing, drying, and fermenting, or (b) those physical processes which do not fundamentally alter the raw product and/or which only separate a whole, intact food into component parts, e.g., grinding meat, separating eggs into albumen and yolk, and pressing fruits to produce juices.”

These standards are only applied to meat/poultry/eggs because the USDA does not have regulatory jurisdiction outside of these food categories [1].

So what about everything else? Well, this is where the FDA steps in. The FDA has "not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances" [2].

So there you have it. All-Natural actually means something…sometimes…depending on the food…because regulatory jurisdiction.

Maybe that will be my next Knowledge Bomb®. Food Labeling: Welcome to Clusterfuckistan.


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