Spend Smart. Eat Smart.

The Nutrition Facts label includes a lot of information to help you make healthy choices. The Label Reading for Better Health lesson walks you through the different parts of the food label so you can make smart choices when you shop.

Food packages often feature words and claims that can be misleading. If you know the definitions of those words, you can avoid being misled or confused by package claims. Here are a few common words you may see on food packages:

  • Organic: This word has a legal definition regulated by law. In order for foods to be labeled as organic, they must be grown and processed with minimal synthetic materials. In order for a product to claim to be organic, it must be certified by the United States Department of Agriculture.
  • Natural: This word has no legal definition. Food companies can call any food natural if it does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.
  • Unprocessed: This word means that the food has not undergone a process to change its character such as canning, freezing, or packaging. Unprocessed does not necessarily mean the food is healthy and some processed foods such as roasted nuts; pre-washed, bagged greens, and frozen veggies are all healthy foods. Look at the ingredients list and Nutrition Facts label to decide if it’s a healthy choice for you.
  • Made with Whole Grain: This is a misleading claim as it can mean there is just a tiny bit of whole grain included.
  • Whole Grain: In order to claim to be whole grain, a product must include at least eight grams of whole grain per serving. A product can claim to be 100% whole grain if it includes 16 grams of whole grain per serving.

Dates

  • Use-By, Best if Used By, Best By, Best Before: These “use-by” and “best” dates are generally found on shelf-stable products such as ketchup, salad dressings, and peanut butter. The date, which is provided by the manufacturer, tells you how long the product is likely to remain at its absolute best quality when unopened. It is not a safety date. Examine the product to gauge the quality after the date and discard foods that have developed an  off odor, flavor, or appearance.
  • Sell-by: Most sell-by dates are found on perishables like meat, seafood, poultry, and milk. The date is for stores to know how long they can display a particular product. You should buy a product before the sell-by date. But you can still store it at home for some time beyond that date, as long as you follow safe storage procedures. For example, milk that has been continuously refrigerated can be consumed for about a week after you bring it home, even if the sell-by date expires during that time.
  • Expires on: The only place you’re likely to see this type of data is on baby formula and some baby foods, which are the only food products the federal government regulates with regard to dating. Always use the product before this expiration date has passed.
  • Stamped Dates on Packages: Products like bagged salad greens, bread, and pre-cut vegetables often feature a date stamped on the package. This date is to help the store determine how long to display the product for sale. It can also help the purchaser know the time limit to purchase or use a product at its best quality. It is not a safety date.