What’s In a Food Label?

When it comes to Munchery meals, the food labels are symbols of so much more. From antibiotic-free to sustainably caught, this index is a handy breakdown of all the health-conscious, eco-friendly, and socially-responsible attributes you may see on the Munchery menu, as well as some food labels you might want to take another look at when you see them at the store.

Mary's Chicken in San Francisco goes beyond the food label and makes sure the chicken is as healthy, delicious, and natural as possible.

All of our chicken is carefully sourced so that you know exactly what you are eating.

Antibiotic-Free: Some farmers and food producers feed their animals antibiotics to try to keep them healthy and to prevent diseases. However, the overuse of antibiotics in animals may lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in improperly cooked meat, which poses a health risk to humans. Antibiotic-free (or ABF) methods are a more natural approach to animal-rearing. While this label (as well as the more recently used “raised without antibiotics”) doesn’t provide any additional insights into how healthy or humane the animals’ conditions are, it’s usually a good sign if your entree is FDA and USDA certified against carrying additional chemicals.

Free Range: “Free Range” is a term regulated by the USDA and can only legally be applied to poultry. While the term may evoke images of chickens happily roaming a giant field, the term doesn’t mean anything in relation to the size or state of the birds’ outside access or how much access is actually offered. The chicken must have at least some outdoor access, albeit for an undetermined amount of time. As a result, the term is pretty meaningless with respect to both the treatment of the bird and the healthfulness of the poultry. This is why we take special care to look for more than just ‘Free Range’ when we source our poultry—the Mary’s Chicken we use in San Francisco and Los Angeles has several distinctions (antibiotic-free, hormone-free, pasture-raised) that, in combination, make for delicious and premium meat.

It's not just about labeling your food, it's about sourcing that food responsibility.

The right food labels can make dinnertime transparency effortless.

Gluten Free: Gluten-free eating has become an enormous movement for the wellness crowd, but for those with celiac disease, it’s much more than a trendy diet. Both types of gluten-free consumers are in luck with this label—the ‘Gluten Free’ label means that the food described is either naturally free of gluten or has been made with alternative gluten-free ingredients. You won’t find any grains, flours, starches, or other ingredients with more than 20 parts per million of gluten in the food. According to FDA regulation, not all gluten-free food must be labeled as such, but we make sure to note it on our menu, making dinner that much easier for those avoiding gluten.

GMO Free: GMO stands for genetically modified organisms—they’ve been created by humans and occur when genes from the DNA of one species are added to the genes of an unrelated plant or animal to give it a desired trait or attribute. While many often think of square-shaped watermelons and unnaturally plump chickens when they hear of GMOs, many of the foods we eat today were created with GMOs via selective breeding—including kale and tomatoes. As of now, the health effects of GMOs on human health are inconclusive, but there are some upsides to GMOs. For example, golden rice—a genetically engineered type of rice that includes beta carotene—has been incredibly helpful in managing vitamin A deficiencies in children in the developing world. If you want purely natural food, this is a good label to look for, but know that it’s not all bad.

Some food labels are more meaningful than others. In the case of 'Natural', look closer to know the real quality of your ingredients.

Don’t be fooled by the ‘Natural’ label—real food is defined by more strict labels.

Hormone-Free: Let’s be honest—hormones belong in teen dramas on TV, not in your food. This label refers just to the use of added hormones in meat production, not including poultry or pork—all poultry and pork are already raised without hormones. However, it’s not an indication of animal diet or free-range access. It’s strictly a measure of the amount of synthetic hormones used on the animal. Ingesting additional hormones through meat and dairy may have negative health impacts on humans, although more research is needed to know exactly how they affect us.

Natural: This label is one of the most vague. The USDA and FDA have not provided formal definitions for its meaning, although they assert that ‘Natural’ food should not contain anything that is artificial or synthetic, including added colors, synthetic additives, preservatives, and artificial flavors, and should be “minimally processed.” Because there is no official definition, it’s impossible to regulate—the label can adorn almost any food without repercussions. The FDA has recently requested feedback from consumers and food experts in an effort to formalize a definition in the future, but for now, disregard this term as it is essentially meaningless with respect to the quality of ingredients, treatment of animals, or nutritional benefit of a product.

Organic: Organic certifications are serious business. For meat to be labeled ‘Organic’, the animal has to to be raised according to strict USDA standards. This includes an organic diet without animal byproduct, no antibiotics or hormones, no genetic engineering, and no negative impact on the environment in which it was raised. There’s also something called the “pasture rule,” which dictates the minimum time that the animals have access to the outside. This can vary depending on the origin of the producer, but it does indicate that your meat started out a whole lot happier.

Certified Organic: Slightly different than the ‘Organic’ label, the ‘Certified Organic’ label includes the same rules about genetic engineering, antibiotics, hormones, pasture access, and organic diets for animals with additional stipulations, like a ban on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides for crops. It’s more strictly regulated than the regular ‘Organic’ label, so you’ll find that Certified Organic foods are more wholesome all around.

Food labels can tell you a lot about where your food is from—here's how to read them.

All of our seafood is either sustainably-raised or sustainably-caught.

Scratch: Just like mama made—only better. Munchery’s ‘Scratch’ label refers to foods made with whole ingredients only, with the exception of partnered products listed in the ingredients. It’s a great label to look for if whole foods and healthful ingredients are important to you. After all, it’s a lot easier to be confident about the contents of your dinner if you can pronounce every ingredient on the label.

Sustainably Farm-Raised or Sustainably-Caught Fish: Sustainability is an important part of eating ethically. Fish farming is one of the most environmentally friendly ways to enjoy fish protein without overfishing, and fish that are caught sustainably are carefully collected according to the laws and populations of each fish species. With this label, you can enjoy your sushi, fillet, or other seafood dish with total confidence, no matter how it swims to your plate. We’re proud to say that all of the seafood on our menu has either been sustainably farm-raised or wild- and sustainably-caught.

Andrew Mitchell

Posted by Andrew Mitchell

Andrew Mitchell is a Copywriter at Munchery. He grew up in Helena, Montana and graduated in 2016 with an English and Creative Writing degree from Stanford University. Andrew loves goats, being lost, and toast.

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