Food classifications. What does gluten free, vegan, kosher,Halaal, etc. mean? (downloadable classification form included)

Halaal food purchases has a global industry value of USD $1.1 trillion in 2013(1). A customer comes in asking if you carry Halaal/Halal items on the menu, it would certainly be handy if you knew in advance whether or not items on your menu falls into this specific category.

In our increasingly diverse society, more and more food restriction categories are emerging and demand increasing.  In order to be competitive, we must educate ourselves what these unique classifications consist of to provide a diverse menu catering to a large audience.  That’s why we are here to provide you with brief definition and some details on labeling for a few of these categories. (For further information, click citation to be redirected to sources.)

For your convenience we have also provided a classification spreadsheet that is downloadable here.

Without further ado, lets get some definitions and elaboration!

  1.  Organic
    • To be USDA certified organic, food item must meet the following requirements:
      • “Produced without excluded methods, (e.g., genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge).
      • Produced using allowed substances.
      • Overseen by a USDA National Organic Program-authorized certifying agent, following all USDA organic regulations.”(2)
  2. Natural
    • “FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.” (3)
    • The Organic and Natural Health Association have rolled out a certification program. (4)
  3. Gluten Free
    • “In addition to limiting the unavoidable presence of gluten to less than 20 ppm, FDA now allows manufacturers to label a food “gluten-free” if the food does not contain any of the following:
      • an ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains
      • an ingredient derived from these grains and that has not been processed to remove gluten
      • an ingredient derived from these grains and that has been processed to remove gluten, if it results in the food containing 20 or more parts per million (ppm) gluten” (5)
  4. Vegan
    • Does not consist of any animal products.
    • friendly to vegans-“a person who does not eat any food that comes from animals and who often also does not use animal products (such as leather)”(6)
      • it is also interesting to note that vegan is not labelled by the USDA nor the FDA.
  5.  Vegetarian
    • Product that does not consist of meat
    • again, no formal labeling exist for vegetarian food in the U.S., but we can reference to U.K. Labeling standards here.
    • animal products such as milk and eggs are acceptable.
  6. Kosher
    • According to FDA labeling “‘Kosher’ may be used only on the labels of meat and poultry products prepared under rabbinical supervision.”(7)
    • On the Kosher Certification website in U.K. they state that”According to the laws of the Torah, to be eaten, a kosher species must be slaughtered by a ‘Schochet,’ a ritual slaughterer. Since Jewish Law prohibits causing any pain to animals, the slaughtering has to be effected in such a way that unconsciousness is instantaneous and death occurs almost instantaneously.”(8)
  7. Sugar Free
    • FDA regulation in sugar free labeling states “the food must contain less than 0.5 g of sugars per labeled serving.”(9) to qualify as sugar free.
  8. No Antibiotics used
    • Used for animal products and meat production, labeling of “antibiotic free” is not allowed as there is no way of verifying that no antibiotics were ever administered.  Instead, “no antibiotics used” and “no detectable antibiotic residue” claims are allowed if the product has been tested. (10)
  9. No Hormones Administered
    • Hormone Free labels are regulated by the USDA-FSIS.
    • “Hormone free” labelling is not allowed since animals naturaly produce hormones.  Instead, “no hormones administered” is used with sufficient documentation to support the claim for beef.  Regulations dictates that hormones are not allowed in raising poultry so the labelling does not apply. (11)
  10. Halaal/ Halal/ Hallal
    • “Halal is Arabic for permissible. Halal food is that which adheres to Islamic law, as defined in the Koran.The Islamic form of slaughtering animals or poultry, dhabiha, involves killing through a cut to the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe.Animals must be alive and healthy at the time of slaughter and all blood is drained from the carcass. During the process, a Muslim will recite a dedication, know as tasmiya or shahada.” (12)
    • Halal certifications are available with a few companies including the ISWA Halal Certification Department under USA Halal Chamber of Commerce and the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America. There are however no legal requirement for labeling
  11. Child Nutrition
    • “The USDA, Child Nutrition (CN) Labeling Program provides food manufacturers the option to include a standardized food crediting statement on their product label. Labels must be authorized by USDA, FNS prior to use and manufacturers must have quality control procedures and inspection oversight that meet the FNS requirements. Products produced in accordance with the CN Labeling Program are generally purchased by foodservice providers for FNS meal programs.”(13)
  12. Trans fat Free
    • There are two types of trans fats; trans fat that forms naturally in animal guts and trans fat that is formed during food processing through hydrogenation (when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil that creates a solid consistency)
    • Consuming trans fat raises the level of LDL cholesterol, which increases changes of cardiovascular diseases.
    • processed food labels often indicate their level of trans-fat. (14)
  13. California Grown
    • Purchasing locally is always a great way to have fresh ingredients and minimizes a business’s carbon footprint while stimulating local economy.  It is therefore wise to purchase locally; in our case, purchasing California grown ingredients.
  14. Recyclable
    • Certain items provided in food businesses are packaged and often times we have containers to provide customers when they wish to bring food home.  It is important to choose recyclable items and provide easy recycling access so that our waste can have a second life.
  15. Compostable
    • Compostable containers and packaging are a step up from their recyclable counterparts.  These items can be placed into composition and eventurally nourish vegetation after decomposition. (15)
  16. Biodegradable
    • Much like compostable, biodegradable items can break down completely, safely and relatively quickly naturally.  The main difference between biodegradable and compostable is that biodegradable items can also be in liquid form.   (16)
  17. Fat Free
    • For a product to be labelled fat free, it must contain “Less than 0.5 g per RACC and per labeled serving (or for meals and main dishes, less than 0.5 g per labeled serving) Contains no ingredient that is fat or understood to contain fat.” (17) according to the FDA.
  18. Low Sodium
    • According to the FDA, products labeled “sodium free” must contain ” Less than 5 mg per RACC and per labeled serving (or for meals and main dishes, less than 5 mg per labeled serving)Contains no ingredient that is sodium chloride or generally understood to contain sodium” (18)
    • For a product to be labeled “low sodium” it must contain “140 mg or less per RACC (and per 50 g if RACC is small)Meals and main dishes: 140 mg or less per 100g.” (19)
    • “Very Low Sodium” items must contain ” 35 mg or less per RACC (and per 50g if RACC is small). For meals and main dishes: 35mg or less per 100g”(20)
  19. Sustainable
    • Dictionary definition of sustainable is “involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources.” (21)
    • sustainability is a large concern when it comes to harvesting or catching wild plants or animals.  Large habitats for wild life are also frequently destroyed for farming causing ecological damages that creates an unsustainable enviornment.
  20. Non-GMO
    • Non-genetically modified organism.
    • Labeling is administered by third parties in the USA such as the NonGMO Project.  Generally speaking products labeled as non-GMO must contain less than 1% of genetic modification. (22)
    • Click here for a more complete standard of the certification process through the Non-GMO Project.
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