Is There A Way to Trust Our Food Supply?

We all struggle to provide ourselves and our families with the best quality food. It’s certainly hard to read through the clutter of the media and what’s presented to us. From recalls to inspections, it only seems like there are a handful of places we can trust. We may turn to dietitians, our local grocery store chain or even farmer’s markets to develop a sense of trust that what we’re buying is the best possible, but even then it may not be enough. One of the biggest issues we face is that we’re misinformed and when we think we’re informed, what we see or read on these food labels may not be accurate (and just how were we supposed to know this?!).

Enter Clean Label Project.

I came across the Clean Label Project a year ago because I was researching for statistics or studies on various brands and their food offerings. The Clean Label Project is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate consumers so that we can make informed decisions about the choices we make when we grocery shop. Their goal is to keep it all transparent -- once you know, you know, and then it is left to us to figure out how to proceed.

Here’s what they do:

· Use state of the art laboratory testing to expose the best and worst performers through our 5-star rating system

· Provide certification and on-package seal of approval so consumers can see past flashy marketing

· Create an online marketplace for consumers to buy the highest performing products

So, what does this mean?

We finally have a resource that is spelling out H-O-N-E-S-T-Y for us. While the truth hurts, it is better to know sooner than later. As with their most recent and extensive study on baby food, it is noted that children, especially babies, are “uniquely vulnerable to the effects of many industrial and environmental contaminants.” In fact, the WHO states that the first 1,000 days of life are the most critical for development. So the Clean Label Project went a step further and assessed the presence and quantity of heavy metals, antibiotic and pesticide residues, BPA/BPS, acrylamide, mycotoxins and melamine in a variety of popular baby food brands and Infant formulas.

Here’s what they found:

• Over 50 percent of infant formulas contained some arsenic

• Soy-based infant formula contained on average seven times more cadmium than other formulas

• Over 25 percent of baby food samples had detectable levels of lead

• Over 50 percent of the products labeled “BPA free” tested positive for BPA

• Some products labeled “certified organic” actually had higher amounts of mercury and lead than conventional baby foods

• Rice-based “puff” snacks had on average over 5 times as much arsenic as other baby snacks

Jackie Bowen, Executive Director of the Clean Label Project, mentioned an interesting point about individual product ratings versus overall brand ratings. For example, you may see that some brands have average ratings but some of their individual products may have a superior rating. Jackie points out, “You will notice that Gerber received a 2.5 stars for the Baby Food average and a 2.6 stars for their infant formula average. In other words, when we take ALL of the Gerber individual products and average them- Gerber shakes out to be essentially average. This means that they have some good products and some bad products when compared to other infant formulas and baby foods.”

This is interesting for a few reasons. 

1) When companies CONSISTENTLY get higher PRODUCT scores and therefore a higher overall BRAND rating, you can tell that they have done something unique in their supplier assurance and quality control/assurance system to specifically account for these scores. They must be testing or screening incoming raw ingredients to ensure they meet some type of internal standard or threshold.

2) For brands that are all over the board, this might tell you that they have not established ingredient contaminant thresholds. Why? Because if they did, then their products would be consistently cleaner. In other words, the 5-star products that these brands have are by chance, and arguably NOT by design.

Now that there’s clarity, here’s hoping that we’re able to understand how to best feed our little ones. The award for “Best in Class” was awarded to Yummy Spoonfuls, a baby food and toddler food brand. Next up - I was informed that we’ll be hearing about protein powder, coffee and tea products in the upcoming months. Stay tuned!

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