In supermarkets filled with an average of 42,214 different items, it can be difficult to sort through all the colorful food packages boasting different attention-grabbing infographics to find what you’re looking for. Sometimes products even boast claims that look reasonably attractive, but aren’t legitimate. How do you know? This page will help define food labels as they are related to farm and processing practices, regulated and monitored by the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) and other organizations. Labels for allergens and nutritional content are handled by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).

The term, ‘regulated’ means that an organization is verifying the label claim on the the food product. Some food labels are regulated by the government, like the USDA Organic label. Others are regulated by third-party groups, such as the Non-GMO Project. Tufts University’s Office of Sustainability has compiled a table of label information for consumers to learn more about which labels are reliable, regulated and meaningful, and which labels are misleading.

Focusing on food grown in Indiana, regulated food labels include the following:

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is the organization responsible for regulating food labels on meat and poultry products such as ‘halal’ and ‘kosher.’ They have a great list of label names and definitions online. Natural flavorings added to meat and poultry are defined and consumers seeking to avoid certain ingredients can read more about them here.

There are a number of verification labels for meat and poultry products such as ‘no hormones’ ‘free range’ or ‘no antibiotics.’ Producers making these label claims must submit documentation to the USDA FSIS to use these labels on their products.

Many of these labels are not going to appear at your local farmers’ market. But in the supermarket, it can be challenging for consumers to make intentional purchases, based on evolving value drivers. According to a Deloitte analysis, consumer values are shifting from price, taste and convenience to social impact, experience, health & wellness and safety. Knowledge of brands and labels is increasing and shoppers are more engaged with their food sources. Labeling will continue to be a way not only for producers to market to a particular audience, but for consumers to choose food based on their personal values.

Posts about food labels:

Indiana Grown


Certified Organic