Bright grocery store aisle with shelves filled with products and man stocking shelves

Take a trip down the grocery store aisle and you’ll see a lot of claims on packaging that cover everything from nutrition callouts to how the food was produced. There are many types of claims, including regulated claims by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and third-party certifications. Companies can also develop their own set of criteria for claims and icons on their products.

Understanding labels can be tricky, and the laws and regulations behind them can be even more confusing. When grocery shopping, it may be challenging to read all the information on the food packages to help make the right choice for you and your family. This guide will help you understand what claims on food packaging mean.

Nutrition Claims

Certain claims you see on a product package, such as healthy, low carb, fat free or no added sugar may lead you to believe that the product is better for you than others. You can read more about how to avoid misleading nutrition claims here.

Meat, Poultry and Egg Claims

When it comes to meat products, many consumers are concerned with how animals are treated and raised as well as how this affects the environment. Here are some terms that you might find on meat, poultry or eggs and what they mean:

  • No Hormones Added: The USDA prohibits the use of hormones in all poultry in the United States. The claim “no hormones added” cannot be used on the labels of poultry unless it is followed by a statement that says, “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.” For beef and pork, if the label says no hormones, this means that the producer chose not to use any hormones and sufficient documentation is provided to the USDA showing no hormones were used.
  • No Antibiotics Added: The term “no antibiotics added” may be used on labels for meat or poultry products if sufficient documentation is provided to the USDA demonstrating that the animals were raised without antibiotics.
  • Vegetarian Fed: This means the animals were fed all-vegetable feeds and no animal products or byproducts. If you are looking for meat and poultry fed a 100% vegetarian diet and raised without antibiotics or added hormones (federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in poultry), check out our GreenWise brand.
  • Grass Fed: Grass-fed meat and meat products are generally understood to be derived from cattle that consumed only grass. However, since there is no official federal definition of “grass fed,” check the label carefully. Some producers, for example, may feed some grain, while others will have a third-party certification or claim that the product is “100% grass-fed.”
  • Grass Finished: Most cattle spend a majority of their lives eating grass but, in some cases, they are grain-finished, meaning they are free to eat a balanced diet of grain, local feed ingredients and hay at the feed yard. The claim “grass finished” may not be the same as “grass fed” because animals that are “grass finished” can be fed grain.
  • Cage Free: This label indicates that the flock was able to freely roam a building, room or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water during their production cycle. You will most often see this claim on eggs.
  • Free Range: Free range for chickens means that the flock has been allowed access to the outside. You may see this claim on eggs too. For beef, pork and other meats, the supplier must provide documentation as well as define what they mean by the claim. For example, for beef, a company could choose to define free range as never confined to a feedlot. This would need to be noted on the packaging.

Grocery store seafood counter with sign that says seafood and fresh fish case

Seafood Claims

At the seafood counter, there are many choices, including wild and farm-raised seafood. Where your seafood comes from and its impact on our oceans are other considerations. Learn more about your seafood choices and how Publix can help you make informed decisions about what types of fish are best for you and your family here, and look for our icons indicating seafood that is responsibly or sustainably sourced.

Vegan, Vegetarian and Plant-Based Claims

There is no federal regulation of the terms vegetarian, vegan or plant based in the United States. Several nonprofit organizations in North America and Europe have developed third-party certifications and have icons for use on packaged food products and for display in restaurants. The bottom line is that it is important to understand what is behind each certification since they differ.

Genetically Modified and Bioengineered Claims

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is a plant, animal or microorganism that has had its genetic material (DNA) altered. Despite all the non-GMO labels you see, there are a limited number of GMO crops being grown in the U.S.

Bioengineered (BE) foods are GMOs. It’s important to note, however, that not all GMOs are BE. Many genetically modified products, such as highly refined oils, do not have BE labeling.

In order to ensure that labeling on genetically modified foods is consistent, the USDA’s National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard defines bioengineered foods as those containing detectable genetic material that has been modified through certain lab techniques and cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature. For each of these foods, manufacturers must include the BE symbol, words or other disclosure on packaging by Jan. 1, 2022.

If you want to avoid genetically modified or bioengineered foods, consider purchasing organic. The USDA National Organic Program prohibits the use of genetic engineering and GMOs.

Organic Claims

Organic is a USDA defined labeling term that relates to the way foods are produced. The national organic standards forbid the use of many synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, sewage sludge, irradiation and genetic engineering to grow fruits, nuts, vegetables and grains. Organic meat and poultry can’t be irradiated. The animals must have access to the outdoors, and they can’t be given any growth hormones, antibiotics or other drugs. All feed must be 100% organic, with no animal byproducts. Look for organic icons at Publix to help you locate organic foods across the store.

Grocery store shelves stocked with food with Kosher sign hanging above

Kosher Claims

Kosher certification is the stamp of approval by a rabbinic agency verifying it has checked the product’s ingredients, production facility and actual production to ensure all ingredients, derivatives, tools and machinery have no trace of non-kosher substances.

To make it easier to shop for kosher foods, most Publix locations have kosher sections in the store. We also have recipes online designated as “Kosher-Adaptable,” which means they can be made kosher with minimal changes that maintain the separation of meat and dairy.


Karleigh W.

Written by

Karleigh W. joined the Publix family in 2013 as a front service clerk. Before becoming a full-time member of the team, she was a 2019 summer intern. Her love for writing, serving customers and Publix culture fuels her inspiration to bring new ideas to The Publix Checkout. Outside of work, Karleigh likes to bake, cook and spend time with her husband and their cat, Cici.

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