Natural, Organic, Local, Grass-Fed – What’s the Difference?

Today we are all trying to make healthier food choices. However, it is not always an easy task. A lot of us have misconceptions about what food labels really mean. With so many different terms being used on food products these days – it’s hard to know what’s really healthy, and what isn’t.

Do these labels mean healthy food?

Natural, Organic, Local, Gluten-Free and Grass-Fed are all terms that alone sound healthy! But, what do these terms really mean?


In a survey of 1,000 people by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, nearly 60 percent of people said they look for the term “natural” on food labels when they shop.

About two-thirds of people surveyed said they believe the term “natural” means that a processed food has no artificial ingredients, pesticides or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The truth is, the FDA has not developed a definition of this term for food labels. The FDA won’t object to the claim “natural” as long as there is no added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. So reality, there are no regulations. “Natural” processed foods can contain ingredients that are processed into artificial ingredients or come from plants with toxic pesticides. Meat labeled “natural” can come from animals who received daily does of antibiotics or growth hormones.

Consumer reports wants the misleading term “natural” dropped from food labels all together because there are no restrictions on how animals were raised or what can go into foods labeled “natural.”


Let’s start by stating “organic” does not mean “local”. According to an article in Time, 17% of consumers spoken with during a survey across the U.S. and Canada incorrectly believed that foods labeled “organic” were also grown locally.

Unlike “natural,” The United States Department of Agriculture regulates and verifies the label “organic.” They have established an organic certification program requiring all organic foods to meet strict government standards.

Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are not given antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic plant foods are produced without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients, sewage sludge, or bioengineering or ionizing radiation. A government-approved inspector must certify the farm to ensure these standards are met. In addition to organic farming, there are USDA standards for organic handling and processing.

There are three levels of organic claims on food labels:

  • 100% Organic. Products that are completely organic or made of only organic ingredients qualify for this claim and a USDA Organic seal.
  • Organic. Products in which at least 95 percent of its ingredients are organic qualify for this claim and a USDA Organic seal.
  • Made with Organic Ingredients. These are food products in which at least 70 percent of ingredients are certified organic. The USDA organic seal cannot be used but “made with organic ingredients” may appear on its packaging.


There is no legal definition of what makes a food “local.” However, the 2008 Farm Act states that any food labeled “local” must be produced in the locality or region in which the final product is marketed, so that the total distance that the product is transported is less than 400 miles from the origin of the product. Many states limit local to mean produced within the state. In the aforementioned TIME article, 23% of consumers falsely believe that “local” products are grown organically.


The FDA requires products labeled “gluten-free” to contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. This ensures that products are free of wheat, rye and barley before being labeled “gluten-free”. Foods inherently gluten-free like fruits and vegetables can also be labeled as gluten-free. Gluten-free does not mean healthy or organic. Many products labeled Gluten-free are processed and contain refined sugars and salts. For more about gluten-free labeling, check out our previous post: ‘Gluten-Free’ Labeling.


First of all ‘grass-fed’ does not mean ‘organic.’ Grass-Fed has a voluntary standard put out by the USDA in 2007, which governs grass-fed claims using the following criteria:

  • Animals must eat only grass and forage throughout their lives, except when consuming milk before weaning. They can’t eat or be fed grain or grain byproducts, but food from cereal crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state is OK.
  • They must have “continuous access to pasture during the growing season.” The growing season is defined as the time between average last and first frost in the animal’s locale. During winter months or drought conditions, they must continue to eat only grass and forage — no grain.
  • Animals may be given routine mineral and vitamin supplements. Producers have to document anything not considered routine.

Under the standard, producers must obtain a USDA evaluation prior to using the grass-fed label or marketing a product as grass-fed.

The Bottom Line

Food labels are confusing, and the lines are even more blurred when there isn’t a specific, regulated definition of what specific labeling terminology can mean. Knowing the difference between different food labels is important to a healthy and informed lifestyle.

‘Gluten-Free’ Labeling

‘Gluten-Free’! What does it REALLY mean?
Gluten Free Labels

Before August 5, 2014, the term ‘gluten-free’ had not been regulated. Manufacturers were making their own call about what ‘gluten-free’ meant. Now, there is a real meaning behind ‘gluten-free’ labels established by the FDA.

For those who struggle with severe gluten intolerance, this is a great change in labeling standards. An autoimmune disordered called celiac disease that can occur in people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. Before the FDA’s new guidelines people with this disease could get sick from gluten in products labeled “gluten-free”.

Now the FDA requires products labeled “gluten-free” to contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. This ensures that products are free of wheat, rye and barley before being labeled “gluten-free”. Before, wheat had to be labeled on food packages, but barley and rye were often hidden ingredients – often dangerous to those with celiac disease.

According the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, under the new FDA rule if a product has a gluten-free claim, it either:

  • Inherently does not contain gluten.

Or the following is true:

  • Does not contain an ingredient that is a whole, gluten-containing grain such as wheat, barley, rye or crossbred hybrids of these grains.
  • Does not contain an ingredient that is derived from a gluten-containing grain and has not been processed to remove gluten such as wheat flour.
  • May contain an ingredient that is derived from a gluten-containing grain that has been processed to remove gluten such as wheat starch, as long as the food product contains less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten.

Millions of people are buying foods that are labeled “gluten-free” even if they don’t have the celiac disease. The awareness of this disease has created an increase of options in grocery stores. According to an article in The Hill, “this standard ’gluten-free’ definition eliminates uncertainty about how food producers label their products,” said Felicia Billingslea, director of FDA’s division of food labeling and standards. “People with celiac disease can rest assured that foods labeled ‘gluten-free’ meet a clear standard established and enforced by the FDA.”

Regulation Changes, Packaging Challenges!

Changing Label Regulations

Up and Coming Label Regulations are Causing New Packaging Challenges

Food producers will need to show labels clearly and concisely without disrupting the visual appeal. Every product relies heavily on label design to jump off the shelf and grab the consumer’s attention. This is becoming even more default with new changes on the horizon.

FDA has announced several important changes:

  • A  more prominent display of information such as serving sizes and calories.
  • Serving sizes are required to reflect the amount people eat at a typical setting.
  • There must be a more prominent display of daily value percentages for nutrients.
  • Information on what the daily value percentages mean.
  • Label information must be changed to reflect new understanding of nutrition, such as requiring information about added sugars and emphasizing the importance of avoiding certain kinds of fat rather than focusing on total calories from fat.

Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2013 (H.R.3147) also requires the following:

  • Disclosure of percentage of grain-based products such as wheat or whole grain in immediate proximity to a descriptive phrase such as “made with whole grains.”
  • Any food containing sweeteners, coloring, or flavoring to have the fact show on the principal display panel of its package or container.
  • Misleading information is prohibited, such as:
    • Food containing trans fat cannot claim low in cholesterol.
    • Label contains the word “natural” while the food contains any artificial ingredient will be marked misbranded.
    • The term “healthy” on a food label when food contains added sugars or whole grains.
  • Requires the nutrition facts panel on a food label to state the percent of recommended daily calories provided by one serving of the product, based on a recommended daily consumption of calories determined appropriate for members of the general population.
  • Labeling requirement for the percentage of added sugars in a food.
  • Requires sugars, non-caloric sweeteners, and sugar alcohols to each be treated as a group in the list of ingredients on a food label, including individual sugars, non-caloric sweeteners, and sugar alcohols within each group, in their order of predominance.
  • The format of the information required on certain food labeling to: (1) improve its readability, and (2) assist consumers in maintaining healthy dietary practices.
  • Requires the labeling of any food containing at least 10 milligrams of caffeine from all sources per serving to say so.

Attracting Consumers

The consumer will greatly benefit from many of these changes. However, brands may need to rethink how they present this information on their products packaging to keep consumer loyalty. The addition of so many new elements can change the entire look and feel of a label. Many brands play on expressive design to tell a story and capture the consumer. Having to give up space for nutritional information could be damaging to how a brand connects with its consumer. Smaller products will have an even harder time. Still, many brands may lose out as consumers have a more difficult time identifying specific brands since much of the branding “real-estate” has been turned into labeling information. It will be interesting to see how marketers tackle these new labeling challenges.

Rice and Straw for Packaging?

Rice and Straw Packaging

Growers of both wheat and rice face the same problem, what to do with leftover straw?

It’s not often that farmers and packaging experts meet in the middle to solve each other’s problems. Growers and wheat and rice need to find a use for leftover straw, while commercial packagers struggle to find budget- and eco-friendly alternatives to plastic packaging.

Often farmers use leftover straw for animal feed or bedding – but to a very small profit. Straw can be plowed under, but it’s an expensive solution. It could be left in the field, but then next year’s crop may face threats of disease from the previous year.

Newspaper distribution has declined and consequently available recycled paper has as well. Costs for recyclable materials have increased and are no longer cost effective for many products.

Meet entrepreneur Jaydeep Korde. Korde has taken on the challenge to create disposable packaging using leftover rice and wheat straw. His next generation packaging company is called Valueform. Seven years in the making, Korde can turn any kind of cereal waste into packaging. In a recent article in The Telegraph Korde states, “Straw is annually renewable, which makes it a more sustainable raw material than paper.”

Korde his created a new technology to be compatible with existing machinery to gain an advantage during the downtime at paper pulping factories. “We’re not talking about building shiny new factories, but converting existing ones to straw,” Korde says.

Not only will the use of rice and wheat straw be more sustainable and completely biodegradable, but it will also help eliminate pollutants. Burning is the most common practice for clearing land after harvest. It is the most convenient, inexpensive, and quickest way to eliminate the leftovers. However, many places are progressively prohibiting this practice because it is bad for the environment. Using these leftovers for packaging could diminish harm to fields and local environmental areas.

As sustainable packaging has become a hot topic, it is interesting to see the different routes entrepreneurs and corporations are taking to eliminate waste and help the environment. Consumers are looking for these kinds of products and often remain loyal to brands that focus on environmentally conscious methods.

The Importance of Expiration Dates on Packaging

What do all the different types of dates on food mean?

With the exception of infant formula, the FDA does not require food firms to place “expired by”, “use by” or “best before” dates on food products. This information is entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer. However, dating methods used are as follows:

Prodcut Expiration Dates

The terms below refer to how long the food can be safely consumed without worry of spoilage according to the USDA.

  • Use-By: This is the most popular method of notating food products that spoil quickly. Required in many countries for foods that do not show easily identifiable signs of spoilage (appearance or smell). Examples: dairy products, meats, dips, pre-packaged fresh foods, packaged fruits & vegetables.
  • Expires: This date tells you when the food product may expire. The food should be consumed on or before this date.

The next set of terms refers to how long the food product will be at its best quality according to the USDA. These dates are not indicators of when the food will spoil.

  • Best if Used By or Best Before: Refers to the date that food is recommended for best flavor or quality. The food item is likely to be safe to consume after this date, but may have lost some of its flavor, taste, or freshness. This dating method is used on a wide variety of packaged foods.

Finally these terms are provided for the assistance of the manufacturer, vendor, distributor, etc. according to the USDA.

  • Sell-By: This date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. These products should be bought before the date expires.
  • Packed On: Indicates the date that the food product was packed.
  • Baked On / Baked For: Indicates when item was baked (for bakery items with a shelf life of less than 7 days). The date tells the store how long the item may be displayed. Examples include breads, bagels, rolls, cakes, and cookies.
  • Can Codes: Canned goods often have a stamped code containing a series of letters and numbers. Part of this code contains a date. The information in the codes allows for tracking, shipping, identification in the event of a recall, and rotation of stock in the warehouse.

What about non food products, such as sunscreen or cosmetics? Are expiration dates on these products necessary?

Sun Screen and Cosmetics Expiration Dates

Currently sunscreen products are not required to have an expiration date. However, many believe they should. An article in The Legislative Gazette, states New York is in the process of passing a bill that would require sunscreen products to include expiration dates. This bill has passed the Assembly and Senate, and was sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office. The hope of this bill is to ensure that New York residents are not overexposed to sun’s UV rays. The UV rays from the sun are one of the leading causes of skin cancer in the US. This bill would require expiration dates on all sunscreen products.

In the US there are no FDA regulations for expiration dates for skin-care or makeup products either. However, most do include expected expiration dates after first opening. According to the FDA shelf life of products is the responsibility of the manufacturer to determine. Eye cosmetics typically have a shelf life of a few months due to the risk of eye infections, while skin creams and powders can last up to a year or longer. The FDA states “consumers should be aware that expiration dates are simply “rules of thumb,” and that a product’s safety may expire long before the expiration date if the product has not been properly stored. On the other hand, products stored under ideal conditions may be acceptable long after the expiration date has been reached.”

The importance of expiration dates depends on the product. Consumers need to be aware of expiration dates and what they mean, as well as using their own best judgment.

Advantages of Flexible Packaging for Fresh Foods

Flexible Packaging for Fresh Foods

More and more companies are packaging their fresh produce in flexible clear packaging instead of the traditional mesh bags. Flexible packaging can provide a longer shelf life for fresh produce that don’t have a high turnover. Larger purchases are also a possibility with a multi-pack. Consumers might me more likely to take a multi-pack of peppers home over just picking up one pepper that has been sitting out and handled by who knows how many people.

Flexible packaging and fresh produce have many advantages. Fresh produce in flexible packaging provides portability, freshness and protects the produce. Flexible packaging is recyclable and uses less resources providing a thinner, lighter overall package. Single serving packages are easy to open and can be consumed on the spot, reducing waste. Fresh snacks like fruits and veggies in a single serving container are also more appealing for the on-the-go health conscious consumer.

An article in FGN (Fruit Growers News) states, “Demand for do-it-for-me convenience has been the big driver behind the tremendous growth of pre-cut, pre-washed and packaged fruits and vegetables for the past 15 years,” IFPA President Jerry Welcome said, “but convenience is now getting a big boost from growing concerns about obesity and health issues in general. 

Does it keep longer?

Fresh produce can be kept fresher longer within a flexible package. The package helps reduce light and moisture transmission keeping the food fresher longer.

Does flexible packaging show case the produce better?

That is a matter of opinion; however it does put it on the same playing field as other products. The flexible package gives it that same finished look as other prepackaged goods.

Does fresh produce in a flexible package help upsell?

Sure, it does. Most consumers are more likely to purchase a fresh combo pack, such as a salad kit because it is all-in-one. They are getting a fresh and healthy meal with the convinces of one stop.

More than ever before, there is a fight to get food products noticed on the the shelf. Fresh produce appeals to that on-the-go health-conscious consumer, giving the upper hand to fresh foods in a flexible package.

Label your flexible packaged, fresh foods with EPI’s Flex-Pac™ labeler.

Flex Pac

‘Made in the USA’ Labeling

Why has ‘Made in the USA’ labeling become such a big thing?
Made in the USA

Many have hopes that reviving manufacturing in the USA will create jobs.  From CNN Money, according to Dave Schiff, chief creative officer at Made Movement, a website that markets and sells only American-made products, “buying American has become personal. People are looking for ‘Made in the USA’ labels because they know that’s how jobs are created.”

An article from Business Insider states that many purchasing decisions are influenced by products being made in America.  In fact, companies making foreign products will attempt to mislead consumers by using patriotic packaging in red, white, and blue or use an American company address.

The ‘Made in the USA’ label indicates that the product is “all or virtually all” made in the United States. The ‘Made in the USA’ label is regulated by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). Automobile, textile, wool and fur products are the only products in the USA that are required to disclose their content. Other products are not required by law to be marked or labeled with ‘Made in the USA’.

According to the FTC  “all or virtually all” means “that all significant parts and processing that go into the product must be of U.S. origin. That is, the product should contain no — or negligible — foreign content.” The Buy American Act requires that a product be manufactured in the U.S. of more than 50% U.S. parts to be considered ‘Made in the USA’ for government procurement purposes.

Also from the Federal Trade Commission, “The Commission does not pre-approve advertising or labeling claims. A company doesn’t need approval from the Commission before making a ‘Made in the USA’ claim. As with most other advertising claims, a manufacturer or marketer may make any claim as long as it is truthful and substantiated.” 3rd party regulator certifications are available, but not required to claim ‘Made in the USA’.

Are EPI’s products considered made in the USA?

EPI’s manufacturing plant and headquarters is located in southern York County. Here virtually all of our labeler parts are manufactured in this facility. All labelers are assembled here as well. Made in the USA!

3 Trends in Coffee Packaging and Labeling

Coffee - Fair Trade

What is Fair Trade?

Fair Trade helps poverty-stricken coffee farmers receive a minimum, fair price for their coffee. This eliminates their vulnerability to the middleman offering cash at a fraction of the coffee’s value. The fair trade movement has been around for more than a decade, but recently has gained traction with coffee consumers. Martin Smith states in his article, “The rise of the Fair Trade Coffee Movement”, that coffee is 40% of the total fair trade industry, which also includes products like chocolate, clothing, home goods, and more. Fair Trade could also mean long-term and more meaningful trading relationships. FairTrade America believes fair-trade is unique in offering four important benefits: stable prices, a fair-trade premium, partnership, and empowerment of farmers and workers. With Fair Trade, consumers, traders, companies, and the environment all win.

Compostable Coffee Bags

Two companies in North America are supporting their eco-friendly commitments with compostable coffee bags. Both McCullagh Coffee and Pistol & Burns use coffee bags that contain cellulose-based NatureFlex™ film from Innovia.

Pistol & Burns, a leading Canadian coffee roasting company, has packed its Fair Trade organic coffee in a paper bag laminated with transparent NatureFlex™ film. Innovia Films states that according to Roy M. Hardy, President, Pistol & Burnes, “Most roasted coffee sold in the world is packaged in either foil bags (coated in plastic) or paper bags (with a plastic liner). These usually end up going straight to landfill as they can prove difficult to recycle. However our enviro–friendly coffee bag can be organically recycled, which means it breaks down in a home compost bin.” The bags were developed by Genpak.

According to an article in PackWorld, McCullagh Coffee’s eco-friendly bag has a much simpler construction. The pillow pack is constructed using transparent, heat-sealable NatureFlex NE. “In applications such as this, where fast product turnover requires a much shorter shelf life, a single mono web structure is one option,” explains Innovia account director Christopher Tom.

Disposable K-Cup

K-Cup disposable/recyclable debate

In 2009 Nespresso launched a program called EcolaborationTM to work toward becoming a more sustainable business. Their focus today is “coffee, capsules and carbon footprint.” Each initiative is designed to achieve a goal of sustainability through sourcing their coffee responsibly, improving recycling of the pods, and also to reduce their carbon footprint.

However, the recyclability of K-Cups remains an issue. Consumers enjoy the ease of Keurig-like machines, but their biggest complaint is the amount of waste it creates. While brewing a pot of coffee results in compostable coffee grounds, an office that uses k-cups on a daily basis has a trash bag full of disposable pods by the end of the day. This was a topic of discussion on LinkedIn recently, where the question was posed: “How willing would U.S. consumers be to bringing coffee capsules to a collection center for recycling?” Response showed that some felt consumers would be willing to participate in a recyclable plan, where as others were not as positive considering the current poor statistics on recycling. It’s great to see some companies taking an initiative to solve a consumer pain point, and it will be interesting to see how the market evolves and what other solutions are found.

How do I know what labeler and/or label to use?

Labeler Needs

Have you ever been responsible for labeling a product? If you have, you know all too well the decisions and choices that have to be made. There are so many variables that need to be considered. For instance: What type of labeler do I need? Will the labeler that I have work? What kind of labels do I need? What label manufacture should I use? Who has the best price? These questions could go on and on, especially if you have no idea where to start.

Picking the right labeler and label for your product can be very overwhelming and darn right frustrating. There are all kinds of labelers and most label manufactures have a minimum order requirement. If you have never labeled a product before or if you have just had an overall bad experience, choosing the right labeler and label for the job can be very difficult. You question, how do I know what label application I need to use? Am I getting the right kind of label? What will I do with all these labels if I make the wrong choice? See, already more questions!

Here is what we suggest:

  • Identify your need.
    • What is being labeled?
    • What is the product made of?
      • Application surface and condition, (i.e. plastic, smooth, clean, rigid, etc.)
    • Where on the product do you want the label?
  • Where in your production line will the labeling process take place?
    • This will help determine the type of labeler and application needed.
    • Knowing the labeler and application you will be using will help determine label sizes that are possible.
  • What is the product’s environment? (i.e. indoors, outdoors, room temperature, freezer, etc.)
    • This answer will help the label manufacture narrow down what label/adhesive will work.
  • Based on the Product and the Labeler, you can then go to your label manufacturer. The questions above should begin too narrow down your options. Keep in mind there are many kinds of labeling adhesives. Share as much information with your supplier as you can to help ensure you are getting the best label for the job.
  • Graphic requirements might dismiss some more options.
  • Volume will narrow your selection even further.

Labeling a product comes with many challenges. EPI Labelers manufactures high quality labelers for packaging and promotional needs. We meet and exceed the demands of our customers, because we know each operation and packaging machine is different and we take the time to listen. So, if you find your self in a sticky labeling situation EPI Labelers has been supplying durable labeling equipment for over 30 years. Contact our sales department we will be happy to help take the stress out of labeling your product!

New GMO Labeling Update – Vermont

Vermont GMO Labeling

Will Vermont’s new law, requiring GMO labels, be the trigger that changes the nationwide rules?

GMO labeling is a movement that many are trying to kill. Major food processors and agricultural companies have poured millions into political advertising campaigning against this very law. Now Vermont has just signed a law that will require food companies to tell consumers which products on store shelves have genetically modified ingredients. This new law could flip food growers and retailers worlds’ upside down. How they serve millions of customers will need to change and it will cost them.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Vermont Gov. Peter Shulin states “Consumers want to know what is in their food. Elected officials will have to meet the demands of consumers or be rejected at the ballot box. There is no doubt in my mind this will spread across the country.”

This new law won’t go into effect until July 1, 2016. This will allow for preparation of rules about the labels. While no other state has a law like this, Connecticut and Maine have laws that would take effect if nearby states joined in. Similarly, many foreign countries require this type of labeling.

Those opposing this law characterize it as irresponsible. According to an article written in USA Today:
“Economic studies have shown that such a program could needlessly increase food costs on the average household by as much as $400 a year,” said Cathleen Enright, executive vice president for food and agriculture with the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

“These advocates willfully overlook the fact that GM foods have been principally responsible for increasing abundance and reducing the overall price of food,” said Val Giddings, senior fellow with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, which supports genetically modified organisms.

Some even feel that consumers should be more concerned with the pesticides being us as apposed to worrying about GMOs.

Backers of GMO labeling believe the consumers have the right to know what is in their food. They aren’t arguing GMO’s as a safety issue. The sentiment of Vermonters, the governor said in an interview, is reflected in an elderly Republican couple he recently met who cheered the labeling effort despite their distaste for big government. “They told me, ‘It makes us nervous when people don’t want us to know what we are buying,’” Shumlin said.

GMO or Non-GMO Labels

Whether the labeling debate continues state-by-state, or the federal government intervenes, it’s looking as though GMO labels will become mandatory. In an article “The Price of Your Right to Know” a report prepared last October, by the Washington State Academy of Sciences reports, “The costs of actual labeling are a tiny fraction of the costs of compliance and certification.” The GMO label is going to cost nothing compared to costs food producers will endure to segregate and audit GMO and non-GMO ingredients. The Washington State report estimated that annual costs today would range from $150 million to $920 million. The administrative expenses of auditing alone could reach $1 million. And as for the legal expenses that would arise from suits over contamination.

How will this affect your company?