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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Eating Well

What's with organic food?

Candance Gabel, MS, RD, LD, Associate State Nutrition Specialist, University of Missouri Extension; Leslie Hesse, Department of Health and Senior Services Dietetic Intern; Jessica Kovarik, RD, LD, Extension Associate, University of Missouri Extension


Savvy consumers are voicing their opinions about the food they purchase. No longer satisfied with conventional food, processing methods and consequently the result product, many consumers are choosing organic foods. Although more organic foods are appearing in grocery stores, what sets these foods apart?

The United States Depart of Agriculture (USDA) makes no claims that organic products are more nutritious, taste better or are safer than conventionally grown food. For a food to be considered organic, it must meet specific requirements set by the USDA. Organic refers to the way a food is grown and processed. The USDA says organic foods must come from certified organic farms that use only approved organic pesticides and fertilizers. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, growth hormones and antibiotics are not to be used. Organic food cannot be genetically modified and when processed, artificial ingredients, preservatives or irradiation can not be used.

Foods that meet the USDA’s standards may choose to carry the USDA’s Organic Seal. However, not all organic products contain the USDA’s seal because use is voluntary. There are different organic seals a food may use from the USDA:


  • “100 percent organic” means the product contains only organic ingredients (except for water and salt).
  • “Organic” products contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients (except for water and salt).
  • “Made with organic ingredients” indicates a product contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients.


Some products that appear to be organic are not. For example, natural foods do not have specific guidelines set by the USDA. Natural foods are typically free of additives, preservatives and added flavoring, colors and other chemicals, but this does not make them organic foods.

For those looking to go organic but may not have the budget to buy only organic food should consider choosing the following produce that are most likely to contain pesticide and fertilizer residue even after being washed:

Bell Peppers
Grapes (imported)
Red Raspberries

Foods that typically contain the least amount of reside because you peel them before eating include:

Corn (sweet)
Peas (sweet)

Remember, fruits and vegetables are a great source of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, so don’t avoid produce. Instead, be sure to properly wash produce before consumption.
Clean fruits and vegetables by running them under tap water, even if the item has a non-edible skin or rind.


Each product purchased represents a consumer choice. Organic food is not necessarily more nutritious or better-tasting than conventional food. Instead, organic food allows consumers to support different agricultural processes than provided by conventional growing methods. Buying organic can be a better choice for a consumer preferring to support environmental-friendly growing practices, local farmers and contribute to sustainable agriculture.


American Dietetics Association, February 2007, from

USDA, January 2007, from

FightBac, from




Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009








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