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Going Organic: What You Need to Know

Turns out the annoying stickers you have to peel off every time you want to eat a piece of fruit actually mean something.
Brian Klutch

Confused about what all the stickers in the photo above really mean? Just reference the number and match it to this key:

  1. The USDA Organic sticker removes all doubt. It's organic.

  2. Another sure sign that it's organic: if the sticker says both "certified" and the name of the producer.

  3. Look at the first number: 9 technically means organic.

  4. If the first number is 4 or 3, it's just good ol' fruit. Not organic.

  5. Don't be fooled. This doesn't necessarily mean anything.

What Does Organic Really Mean?
The word Organic refers to the way a product is produced— specifically, by utilizing renewable resources and sustainable farming methods while reducing pollution. Where traditional produce farmers will use chemical fertilizers and insecticides, organic ones will opt for manure instead and protect their crops by actually welcoming certain insects and birds to keep pests at bay.

Similarly, organic livestock farmers will pass up growth hormones and antibiotics in favor of organic feed and more natural preventive health measures. It's better for the environment and results in a more wholesome end product, but it comes at a price and sometimes it simply isn't worth the extra cash.

Go organic for fruits and veggies with edible skin. But for something that you're going to peel, like a banana, it makes no difference. For meat, however, it pays to buy organic when you can afford to because of the higher risk of contamination for meat that isn't. If that's not an option, choose lean cuts with less fat, which is where most of the contaminants are concentrated.

It also pays to remember the reason you're going organic in the first place. If it's for the environment, consider buying in bulk to minimize the amount of packaging you throw out. And if it's purely to protect your body from harmful pesticides, pick up a produce wash.

Ground Yourself
Don't be deceived by confusing marketing lingo. Here's what the labels really mean.

"100% Organic"
The product is either completely organic or comprises entirely organic ingredients.

"Organic"
The product is at least 95% organic.

"Made with Organic Ingredients"
The product is at least 70% organic.

"Natural"
The product contains no artificial ingredients. This label doesn't regulate farm practices.

"Free-Range"
The flock was sheltered with regular access to food, water, and the outdoors.

"Cage-Free"
The flock was allowed to roam freely in an enclosed area with unlimited access to food and water.

"Grass-Fed"
The animal got most of its nutrients from grass, unlike organic animals that may also get grains. This label doesn't limit the use of antibiotics or hormones.

"Pasture-Raised"
This label is not yet regulated by the USDA.

"Humane"
This label is also unregulated and therefore meaningless.

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