Deciphering Supermarket Labels

Nutrition Advice from Your Pawling Hannaford Dietitian

When you walk the aisles of the supermarket, you may notice that the front of a package is like a small billboard, highlighting the attributes of each product. It can be confusing to understand what each label and call out means, but a bit of label education can make it clear and help you choose the items you truly mean to be filling your cart with.

Certified Transitional

It takes three years for soil to be considered as organic (free from fertilizers and pesticides). This means that as a grower is transitioning their land to organic practices, they can’t label their crops organic until the land is certified as such. This expensive period for farmers, which involves tremendous investment without the return, may prohibit some from attaining organic status. The new organic transition label is designed to inform consumers that the food used for their packaged products is currently transitioning toward organic and therefore was produced without pesticides, hormones, and the like. While the soil may not be considered organic yet, the product may still match the needs of a consumer who seeks organic and natural products. This goal of this new label is to support farmers and potentially help them receive a return on their investment sooner than three years.

Non-GMO Project

Major food companies will have to label foods produced with genetically modified ingredients (GMO) by January 2020 (smaller food companies have until 2021). The Non-GMO Project is a mission-driven nonprofit organization offering a third-party non-GMO verification program to the standard consumers expect. At Hannaford, we are the pioneer and established market leader for GMO avoidance. We have set the industry standard for non-GMO verification since the Butterfly first appeared on store shelves in 2010.

Certified Gluten Free

Before the FDA developed a clear definition for “gluten free” (GF) in 2014, we didn’t have a way of knowing if a product was truly GF. During this time, GF food companies needed to have their foods tested by a third party so that they could be certified as GF. Today, if a food is labeled as “Gluten Free” it has been tested to meet the FDA standards set in 2014. A product no longer must be “Certified Gluten Free.” While some companies may still choose use third party certification, it’s not necessary. If a food is simply labeled GF then it is. Being “certified” GF doesn’t make a product safer for those who need to avoid gluten.


There are clear standards regarding the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals, as well as growing practices that must be met for a product to carry the organic label. If a fresh or packaged product is stamped with the organic label you can rest assured knowing that the product has been produced in accordance with strict standards.

All Natural

It’s important to know that, unlike the organic label and the standards behind it, there is not an FDA definition for “all natural.” This means that companies whose products are labeled “all natural” will each have their own definition of what it means for those products. If you prefer to buy products that are made with natural ingredients or produced a specific way, then you must read how it’s being defined for the specific product you’re interested in.

Guiding Stars

If you regularly read this column then you may have noticed that I always mention Guiding Stars, the program you can find at your local Hannaford, which uses a patented algorithm to make it easy to find the most nutritious foods in the store. Look for the stars on Hannaford products (that earn them!) or located on the shelf tag below non-private label products. Remember 1 star means a product (or recipe) is a good choice, 2 stars a better choice, and 3 a best choice. Learn more at online.

As your local Hannaford Dietitian, I’m pleased to be sharing my advice and simple tips. Please visit online for my in-store schedule of classes, demonstrations, and store tours, or call (845) 855-0553 for more information. You can also follow me on Twitter (@AllisonStowell) or Instagram (@AllisonJStowell).


Mushroom Egg Cups (1 Guiding Star)

Spring is a perfect season for brunch and these individual Mushroom Egg Cups are the perfect addition to your menu. Chewy, tender mushrooms seasoned with thyme in soft, creamy baked eggs are wonderful straight from the cup or spooned onto whole-grain toast.


2 T. extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 c. shallot, minced

8 oz. mushrooms, sliced

2 T. fresh thyme, chopped

6 lg. eggs

3/4 c. 1% milk

1/4 t. kosher salt

1/2 t. ground black pepper

4 T. mozzarella cheese