What Does Organic Mean?

Berries; What does organic mean?

What is the difference between organic foods and conventionally grown foods?


The word "organic" refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products, and meat. Organic farming practices encourage soil and water conservation, as well as reduce pollution.


Farmers who grow organic produce and meats do not use conventional methods to fertilize, control weeds, or prevent disease among livestock. For example, conventional farmers apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth; organic farmers apply natural fertilizers to feed soil and plants, such as manure or compost.

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What are the reasons for purchasing organic food?


The decision to choose organic foods is influenced by health and environmental concerns. Various people purchase organic food because they feel that it is a healthier choice. They know that organic animals have not been given hormones or antibiotics. The animals are fed organically grown feed and grass. Some believe that organic animals are treated more humanely.


Organic plants have not been sprayed with pesticides or fungicides. They can also be sure that the ground has no traces of man-made chemicals.


People are concerned about food additives and other ingredients being used in conventional food products. Some insist that organic food tastes different than conventional food; others state that they can not taste any difference.


How do I know if a product is organic?


The USDA organic seal guarantees that the food is at least 95 percent organic. Products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients may state "made with organic ingredients" on the label, but can not use the USDA seal. Products that contain less than 70 percent organic ingredients can not use the seal or the word "organic" on their label, but they are allowed to include organic items in their ingredients list.


Is organic food more nutritious?


The American Dietetic Association states that the vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant levels in organic foods are no different from the nutritional qualities of conventional foods. A 2010 review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no evidence indicating that organic products are healthier than conventionally grown products. More research is necessary to address whether or not there are differences between the nutrient content of organic and conventional products.


It is important to include more fruits, vegetables, low-fat and non-fat dairy products, whole grains and lean meats into your diet. Whether these products are organic or conventional, they are nutritious and contribute to a healthy dietary intake.


Be sure to carefully read food labels. Just because a product is organic or contains organic ingredients does not necessarily mean it is a healthier alternative. Organic products can still be high in sugar, salt, fat or calories. A cookie is still a cookie nutritionally, no matter if it is organic or not, and consumption in moderation is necessary.


Food Safety Tips


Once fruits and vegetables are harvested, they are handled by several pairs of hands in the fields and orchards, in warehouses, and finally in your grocery store.


Bacteria including Listeria, Salmonella and E. Coli may be lurking on organic and conventionally grown produce. These bacteria can cause a food-borne illness; therefore they must be washed away from your produce.


Whether you choose only organic foods or decide to mix conventional and organic foods follow these food safety tips:

  • Avoid cross-contamination by keeping fresh greens, fruits, and vegetables away from uncooked meats.
  • Wash your hands before preparing meals and handling produce.
  • Choose fruits and vegetables that appear healthy and ripe. Avoid bruised, moldy, and mushy produce.
  • Purchase fruits and vegetables that are in season to guarantee high quality. Also, try to purchase produce the day it is delivered to the grocery store to ensure that you are purchasing the freshest foods.
  • Wash all pre-packaged fruits and vegetables, even if the label claims they are pre-washed.
  • Wash all fresh produce thoroughly under a stream of water or by using the spray nozzle of your faucet to reduce dirt and bacteria. Rub the produce with your hands, or scrub with a vegetable brush, to remove potential bacteria. No soap or special solutions are necessary; plain, cool water is the best agent.
  • Wash all parts of fruits and vegetables, even if you do not plan on eating them. Bacteria can live on the rind of fruits and vegetables. Even though you peel and toss the outer portion into the trash, the bacteria can be transferred from the rind of the fruit or vegetable to the knife being used to cut them, and then onto the parts you will be eating.
  • If you are concerned about pesticides, choose produce wisely.

Choosing What Organic Produce to Purchase


The Environmental Working Group analysts have concluded from data that the following conventionally grown foods are potentially heavily contaminated with pesticides:

  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Nectarines
  • Bell peppers
  • Spinach
  • Cherries
  • Kale/collard greens
  • Potatoes
  • Imported grapes.

You may want to consider purchasing organic varieties of those foods if you are concerned about pesticide intake.


The Environmental Working Group considers the following conventional foods lowest in pesticides:

  • Onions
  • Avocado
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapple
  • Mangos
  • Sweet peas
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit
  • Sweet potato
  • Honeydew melon


  • US Dept of Agriculture, National Organic Program. Organic food standards and labels: the facts. Available at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/Consumers/brochure.html. Retrieved on January 20, 2011.
  • Mayo Clinic. Organic foods: Are they safer? More nutritious? Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/organic-food/NU00255. Retrieved on January 20, 2011.
  • Environmental Working Group, EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides. Available at: http://static.foodnews.org/pdf/EWG-shoppers-guide.pdf. Retrieved on January 21, 2011.
  • Dangour, A.D., Lock, K., Hayter, A., Aikenhead, A., Allen, E., and Uauy, R. (2010). Nutrition-related health effects of organic foods: a systemic review. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 92, 203-210.