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Consumer Reports: The truth about misleading food labels

These days, grocery stores feature an abundance of food, bearing clever labels with healthy buzzwords. It can lead even the most well-intentioned shopper astray. (Consumer Reports TV)

Healthy food sells.

These days, grocery stores feature an abundance of food, bearing clever labels with healthy buzzwords. It can lead even the most well-intentioned shopper astray.

“Certainly, some of these claims are put on the label in order to get consumers to buy that product,” said Consumer Reports Food Safety Analyst Charlotte Vallaeys.

Vallaeys said some labels are essentially meaningless, like "natural."

“For most foods, there's actually no common standard a food manufacturer has to meet in order to be able to label their food as “natural,” said Vallaeys.

Other labels can be deceptive, such as "cage free"

“Pretty much all chickens that are raised for meat are not raised in cages,” said Vallaeys.

“Gluten free” is another popular label that’s often misused.

“The FDA allows the ‘gluten free’ claim on foods that could naturally contain gluten,” said Vallaeys. “But they also allow it on packages of food that would never naturally contain gluten like rice and oats, and they even allow it on, say a bottle of water.”

That being said, there are some labels that carry weight.

“A great one to look for is USDA organic,” said Vallaeys.

There are strict rules governing what can be labeled USDA organic.

A good rule of thumb: what you find on the back of the label -- in the nutrition facts -- is a lot more important than what's written on the front.

“Don't necessarily rely on those health claims on the front of the package,” said Vallaeys. “Really look at the ingredients list, look for whole grains, whole wheat.”

"No Antibiotics" is another tricky label because companies are allowed to put that claim on their label, even without verification. If you want to make sure what you're buying really doesn't include antibiotics, look for the "USDA process verified" stamp, as well.

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