How Organic Food Works

By: Robin Brett Parnes

How Do I Know if a Food is Organic?

Look for the word "organic" on vegetables or pieces of fruit, or on the sign above the organic produce display. The word "organic" may also appear on packages of meat, cartons of milk or eggs, cheese and other single-ingredient foods. Foods labeled "100 percent organic" must contain only organic ingredients. Products containing at least 70-percent organic content can be labeled "made with organic ingredients." Those foods labeled simply "organic" must have at least 95-percent organic ingredients, by weight or fluid volume, excluding water and salt. Anyone who knowingly sells or labels a product "organic" that is not produced and handled in accordance with these regulations can face a civil penalty of up to $10,000.

Foods grown and processed according to the federal standards will in most cases bear the seal "USDA Organic." As its use is voluntary, companies may choose not to display the seal.


If you see a food that is labeled "transitional," that means the farmer produced it during the three-year conversion period from conventional to organic.