By Sue Mah, MHSc, PHEc, FDC
Are you confused by the different words you see on food packages? Natural versus Organic. Free run versus Free range. No Sugar Added versus Unsweetened. Product of Canada versus Made in Canada. These words may sound similar, but they’re actually quite different. Let’s take a closer look at some of these terms to understand exactly what they mean.
Natural vs Organic
Natural: According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, a food can be described as “natural” if nothing has been added or removed. In other words, the food doesn’t contain or has ever contained any added vitamins, minerals, artificial flavours or food additives. (There are some exceptions to this rule , such as skim / partly skimmed milk which must contain added vitamins A and D, as well as enriched flour which must contain added B vitamins and iron.)
Also, a “natural” food has not had anything removed (except water) and has not undergone any “maximum processes” such as decaffeination, curing or smoking which would significantly alter the food’s original physical, chemical or biological state. On the other hand, a food can still be called “natural” if it’s undergone “minimum processes” such as blanching, shredding or flaking. For example, nuts with added salt could not be labelled as natural. But blanched, unsalted nuts could be labelled as natural.
- synthetic (human-made) fertilizers or pesticides (but organic pesticides are allowed);
- artificial colours, flavours or preservatives;
- growth hormones or routine use of antibiotics;
- genetic engineering in seed, feed and ingredients;
- sewage sludge; and
For example, produce can be labelled as organic if it was grown without hydroponics or synthetic pesticides. Organic beef means that it was raised with certified organic feed / pastures and without the use of supplemental hormones or antibiotics.
Free-run versus Free-range
Free-run eggs come from hens that roam the entire barn floor, and some of these barns may have multi-tiered aviaries. Free-range eggs come from hens that roam the entire barn floor (just like free-run eggs) and these hens also have access to outside when the weather permits.
Similarly, free-run chickens are able to move around freely within the barn but are not necessarily raised outside. All chickens raised for meat in Canada are considered free-run.
In Canada, there actually isn’t a legal definition for “free-range chicken” so it may vary from farm to farm. Generally, it refers to poultry that has been able to graze or forage outdoors. Since chickens can’t be raised outdoors during our cold Canadian winters, it’s a good idea to ask your butcher or grocer about the meaning of “free-range” if you’re buying chicken in the winter or early spring.
No Sugar Added versus Unsweetened
No sugar added means that the food and its ingredients contain no added sugars. However, the food may still contain natural sugars and may also contain added artificial sweeteners. You might see the “no sugar added” claim on foods like yogurt, cookies and beverages.
Unsweetened means that the food contains no added sugars (as defined above) and also contains no other artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, Ace-K (acesulfame-potassium). Foods with the “unsweetened” claim include yogurt, applesauce and lower calorie beverages.
Product of Canada versus Made in Canada
These terms are also regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Product of Canada means that the food was grown or raised by Canadian farmers and prepared / packed by Canadian food companies. All or nearly all of the food and processing used to make the food is Canadian. Maple syrup is an example of a Product of Canada.
Made in Canada means that a Canadian company was involved in some of the food preparation. I have a jar of peanut butter in my cupboard that says “Made in Canada” – that’s because the peanuts were grown outside of Canada (so it can’t be a “Product of Canada”), but the product was packaged in Canada.
Want to learn more about food labels? Check out these other blogs.