Food Labels Food Safety and Handling Tips

For your good health, some food labels offer guidance on food safety and handling. To reduce the risk of foodborne illness, raw and partially cooked meat and poultry products must be labeled with guidelines for safe handling. See the "Safe Handling Instructions" label. Each of the simple graphics—a refrigerator, hand washing, fry pan, and meat thermometer— represents a safe handling tip.

Cartons of shell eggs also have safe-handling instructions to help control Salmonella contamination:

SAFE HANDLING INSTRUCTIONS: To prevent illness from bacteria: keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly.

Besides food safety, following these guidelines helps food retain its appealing flavor, texture, and appearance. For in-depth information on food safety and handling, see chapter 12, "The Safe Kitchen

More Health-Focused Label "Info"

Food allergen labeling: As of 2006, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires allergen labeling for foods containing a major food allergen or a protein from these allergens: milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, and soybeans. These allergens account for 90 percent of all food allergies. For example, it may say: "Contains milk, egg, peanuts."

Health warnings for more conditions: Warnings for people with special needs include:

  • Foods and beverages made with aspartame (a nonnutritive sweetener) offer a warning for people with phenylketonuria (PKU). Aspartame contains the amino acid phenylalanine, which people with PKU can't metabolize.
  • You'll find "Contains Sulfites" on beer and wine labels and on dried fruit and some salad seasonings, too, for those who are sulfite-sensitive.
  • Alcohol-containing beverages also carry warnings for pregnant women.

Note: Any food with an allergen introduced through biotechnology must carry a statement of the food label.

Safe Handling Instructions

This product was prepared from inspected and passed meat and/ or poultry. Some food products may contain bacteria that could cause illness if the product is mishandled or cooked improperly. For your protection, follow these safe handling instructions.

Keep refrigerated or frozen. Thaw in refrigerator or microwave.

Keep raw meat and poultry separate from other foods. Wash working surfaces (including cutting boards), utensils, and hands after touching raw meat or poultry.

Keep hot foods hot. Refrigerate leftovers immediately or discard.

See chapter 21 for more information on allergen labeling and on PKU and other food sensitivities.

Diet exchanges. Some foods provide diet exchanges for help in managing diabetes or weight. The label probably will say that these exchanges are calculated based on exchange lists from the American Diabetes Association and the American Dietetic Association.

More Reading on the Food Label

Taking a few more moments with food labels teaches even more about the food inside the package.

Type of food. The product name tells what's in the container. Besides naming the specific food, it tells the form, perhaps smooth or chunky, sliced or whole, or miniature—important to know when you're following a recipe.

Net contents. Food labels tell you the total amount in the container, either in volume, count, or net weight. Net weight refers to the amount of food inside the container, including any liquid.

For juice products, total percent juice content. This tells you how much juice and how much water the beverage contains. Keep reading for the Nutrition Facts. Compare nutrients, along with sugars and calories, before making your selection.

A "100 percent" juice may—or may not—supply 100 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin C. That said, juices offer more nutrients and phytonutrients than just vitamin C. Many juices are fortified with additional nutrients, too.

Juice "drinks," "beverages," or "cocktails" (with some juice, but not 100 percent juice) may be fortified to provide 100 percent of the Daily Value for some nutrients. Typically these beverages have added sugars, but probably not all the other nutrient and phyto-nutrient benefits of 100 percent juice. To the body, the sugar in fruit, called fructose, and added sugars in juice drinks can't be distinguished. They're used in the body in the same way. For more on juice and juice drinks, see "Juicy Story: Fruit Juice, Juice Drink, Fruit Drink... or Just Plain Water?" in chapter 8.

Name and address of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor. With this information you can contact a food company with your consumer questions and concerns. Look for a consumer service phone number or Web site address, too. If the food is imported, the country of origin must be shown; this import regulation comes from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Food product dating. You can't see inside the package; how do you know if it's fresh? Many food packages, such as dairy products, have a date, often given as numbers, such as "12-15" or "1215" or as "Dec. 15" to mean December 15. Food manufacturers and retailers use three types of dates:

  • quot;Sell by" or pull date: That's the last day a food should be sold to remain fresh for home storage.
  • Pack date: That's when the food was manufactured, processed, or packaged.
  • quot;Best if used by" date: For optimal quality, use food by this date; it's not a safety date. For example, the label may say, "Best if used by 12-31-07." Depending on the food and if it has been stored properly, it will likely be safe beyond this date.

Organic labeling. The Organic Foods Production Act and the National Organic Program ensure that the production, processing, and certification of organic foods are standardized. The term "organic" now has a legal label definition so you know what you're buying if you prefer organic foods. Foods may also bear the "USDA Organic" seal. Here's what the term "organic" means on food labels:

  • quot;100percent organic": The product must contain only organically produced ingredients (except for water and salt).
  • quot;organic": The product must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (except for water and salt). The other 5 percent are ingredients that aren't available in organic form or that appear on an approved list.
  • quot;made with organic ingredients": Processed foods may bear this label if they contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients—for example, "soup made with organic peas, potatoes, and carrots." The regula

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tion also identifies production methods that can't be used.

If it's labeled organic, you can find other label information. In the ingredient list look for the organically produced ingredient. The name and address of the certifying organization will appear, too.

Organic labeling regulations don't change food labeling regulations, administered by the U.S. FDA or the U.S.D.A.'s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Organic foods aren't necessarily more healthful or more nutritious than other foods. Using them is really a consumer preference. For more about organically grown foods, see chapter 9.

Grading and inspection symbols on some products. These symbols indicate that foods have met certain standards set by the government:

  • Inspection stamps on meat, poultry, and packaged meats mean the food is wholesome and was slaughtered, packed, or processed under sanitary conditions.
  • Food grades—for example, on some types of meat, poultry, eggs, dairy foods, and produce—suggest standards of appearance, texture, uniformity, and perhaps taste. With the exception of marbling fat in meat, food grading does not suggest nutrient value. Grading for meat, poultry, and eggs appears later in this chapter.

Preparation instructions. Some products suggest oven or microwave times and temperatures, or perhaps other preparation or serving tips. Some offer recipes.

Kosher symbols. The term "kosher" means "proper" or "fit" in Hebrew. Kosher symbols indicate that the food has met the standards of a Jewish food inspector, done in addition to government safety inspection. The kosher code, which may appear on foods throughout the store, doesn't imply any nutritional qualities.

Often the word "Pareve" is written next to these symbols, meaning the food has neither meat nor dairy ingredients. During March and April a large "P" next to the symbols means it's kosher for Passover.

Usda Inspection Stamp

Halal and Zabiah Halal symbols. Products prepared by federally inspected meat packing plants and handled according to Islamic dietary law and under Islamic authority may bear Halal and Zabiah Halal references.

Besides nutrition and health claims, some labels carry other label terms.

Label Lingo

Besides nutrition and health claims, some labels carry other label terms.

Fresh Food in its raw state. The term can't be used on food that has been frozen or heated, or on food that contains preservatives. Fresh frozen Food that is quickly frozen while very fresh shortly after harvest Homogenized Process of breaking up and separating milk fat. This makes the texture of milk smooth and uniform.

Natural Product with no artificial ingredient or added color and that is minimally processed. The label must explain the use of the term "natural" (e.g., "no added colorings or artificial ingredients"; "minimally processed") Pasteurized Process of heating foods such as raw milk, raw eggs, and fresh juice to a temperature high enough to destroy bacteria and inactivate most enzymes that cause spoilage Ultrapasteurized Process of heating food such as cream to a temperature higher than pasteurization. This extends the time it can be stored in the refrigerator or on the shelf. UHT (Ultra-High Process similar to ultraTemperature) pasteurization. With high heat and sterilized containers, food can be stored unopened without refrigeration for up to three months. Once opened, it needs refrigeration.

Universal Product Code (UPC). These black bars, which identify the manufacturer and the food, are used by the food industry for inventory control and price scanning.

Country of origin. Fish and shellfish must be labeled with country of origin and how they are produced, for example, wild or farm-raised. This labeling is being considered for meat, peanuts, and other perishable commodities, too.

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