In the gastronomic world, we seem to be constantly bombarded with the terms “fresh”, “natural” and “organic.” So what do they really mean? Food labels are managed collectively by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food Drug Administration (FDA). While the USDA handles grains, produce, animal products and meats, the FDA takes care of grocery items and many of the nutritional food labels such as fat content, calories and vitamins.
What does the word “natural” mean? Unfortunately it does not mean much. There is no FDA guideline behind the term natural, and therefore has no objection to the use of the term as long as the food does not contain any added color, artificial flavors, or any synthetic substances. In other words, “natural” foods cannot include synthetic ingredients, but can be heavily processed, such as high fructose corn syrup.
According to the FDA site, “fresh” can mean different things for different foods. Food manufacturers are allowed to use the term “fresh” on their products, even if they are using waxes or coatings, applying chlorine or ionizing radiation. So food that we perceive as “fresh” may not be so.
For the term “organic,” the USDA has set aside three categories: “100% organic” (foods that are void of any non-organic/synthetic ingredients),”organic” (foods that contain 95% organic/non synthetic ingredients), and “made with organic materials” (foods that have at least 70% organically produced ingredients).