So-called, “Clean” food labels are as murky as the previous “All Natural” labels were. A new survey has found that neither retailers nor consumers know what “clean” food labels really mean. Roughly one-third of shoppers think clean label products are free of artificial ingredients, another third think they are organic or natural, and the remaining third are unsure what the labels even mean.*
So what are consumers to do? As always, read the ingredients listings on the back of the packaging. While the ingredients section will omit listing unwanted chemicals of concern that seep into the food from food packaging, as well as chemicals used by original suppliers of individual ingredients (such as sulfites or pesticides), consumers can at least see whether the food item contains many of the unwanted chemicals of concern like preservatives, synthetic food dyes, or other additives like synthetic or industrialized flavor enhancers or emulsifiers.**
Retailers and shoppers don’t know what clean label means
“Clean labels … provide no assurance about other unknown and hazardous food additives such as those used in packaging like perchlorate or that enter food during manufacturing and processing like phthalates.” -Environmental Defense Fund report
Until the term is given an official definition from a government agency, grocery retailers will continue to misuse the term, either intentionally to make product offerings appear healthier than they actually are, or by accident. This will further confuse consumers searching for healthy products, and undermine the efforts of retailers who actually provide “clean” chemical-free products with natural foods.
It’s unclear whether or not the FDA or USDA will devote time to defining this term and others under the Trump administration.
** For detailed information on which commonly used food additives are linked with illnesses and adverse reactions, see the Food Additives to Avoid Listing [FATAL] in our book.