It takes no professional researcher to see that more and more terms are used to describe foods these days. Whether it is organic, non-GMO or preservative packed, labels are including misleading information. Here are some simple tips to keep in mind before marketing makes you pay extra for the same product.

Common words you may see in the grocery store include clean label, organic, natural and preservative free. The list goes on. These messages are bombarding consumers when shopping for food. Are these messages helping or just confusing? Researchers at Alabama A&M University are working to crack the myths and confusion.

It is assumed that organic foods are healthier, safer and contain less synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Plants have a natural defense system of bioactive phytochemicals. So, it is assumed, that because organic foods are not treated with synthetic pesticides, they would have more bioactive phytochemicals. Many research studies have been conducted on this concept and are inconclusive. Nutrient content varies by growing region and the soil in which the plants are grown. This is true whether a food is grown organically or conventionally. Therefore, nutrient content between the two options is not statistically different. 

As far as food safety from microbial contamination, when foods that are considered organic, natural, clean or minimally processed, they can be at a higher risk of causing foodborne illness. These types of foods do not have protection from preservatives and antimicrobials. All foods, no matter the label or growing method, are at risk of microbial contamination. Scientifically proven technology makes food safer. A perfect example of this is proper and precise directions to preserving food at home. If directions are not followed as provided, foodborne illness can wreak havoc on one’s digestive tract, hospitalize someone, or worst-case scenario, cause death.

If interested in learning more about recent research on food preservation, contact our office about a workshop being held on June 19. For more questions on this topic or others, please contact the K-State Research and Extension – Leavenworth County office at 913-364-5700, stop by at 613 Holiday Plaza in Lansing or email me at chelsim@ksu.edu

Chelsi Myer is a family and consumer sciences agent at K-State Research and Extension – Leavenworth County.