Health Claims and Third-Party Verifiers A Consumer’s Guide to Prepackaged Foods

When buying prepackaged food, consumers may want additional information on the quality of the ingredients.  How were the ingredients grown?  Who was involved in production?  Does this food agree with my dietary restrictions?  What is the story behind the food?  What are my dollars supporting?

In order to prevent misleading and deceptive labelling practices, products are regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and are more credible with the verification of third-party auditors.  For most instances, unless consumers are in direct contact with food producers or with knowledgeable and reputable butchers, fishmongers or storeowners, they must rely on the information on food labels to gain insight on what they are purchasing.

What it means?

Organic refers to specific management methods of production that increase the quality and durability of the environment.

Focus is on soil fertility, biological diversity, caring for livestock and overall protection of the environment. Livestock are given organic feed as well. Organic encompasses non-GMO. Organic certification is overseen by a third-party, verifier annually.

When you buy this certified (claim) product

You are supporting the health of the environment, and in turn, your own health. Organic promotes a shift in systems and fosters environmentally-sustainable ways of producing food.

Products containing at least 95% organic ingredients can be “certified organic”. They must have the name of certification body: Ecocert, Pro-Cert, QAI, etc. The use of the Canada Organic logo is voluntary and the USDA organic logo is equivalent.  If containing 70-95% organic, the product may say “Contains X% organic ingredients”.

What it means?

The Non-GMO Project is a third party verification of raw, risk ingredients, namely corn, soy, canola and sugar beet, to ensure that they are below the cross contact threshold of 0.9%. The goal is a 0 level threshold through a system of testing, traceability and segregation.

When you buy this certified (claim) product

Buying non-GMO means that food was grown without the use of genetic intervention. GM seeds are a contributor to vast monoculture and increased use of pesticides, which have negative effects on diversity and the natural tendencies of nature, such as the behavior of pollinators, which are a driving force of our agro-ecosystem.

What it means?

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has defined local as food produced within the province in which it is sold, or within 50 km of the province of origin.

When you buy this certified (claim) product

Buying local is often fresher and more sustainable. It is a great way to learn about the food around you; when you buy local because you get to learn what foods are in season and when!  Because of a shorter supply chain, information is more easily attained through your local grocer or directly from the farmer.

What it means?

In Canada, “gluten-free” means that a food contains less than 20ppm of gluten (or 0.002%).

Without a certification, you cannot be sure that the threshold of gluten is safe for those with celiac disease. Gluten-free is a claim that is often used by food manufacturers and food services.

When you buy this certified (claim) product

You are getting a product that has the least amount of gluten that can be detected.  These are safe for people who have gluten intolerances.

Note: Always read ingredient lists and look out for precautionary statements (not always available). If you do not see precautionary statements, contact the company to clarify.

What it means?

Fair Trade ensures that the producers, mostly in the majority (developing) world, are paid adequately. Additional funds go back into their communities to fund for various causes such as schools to promote a better quality of life.

When you buy this certified (claim) product

You are supporting “the broader concept of fairness and decency in the marketplace” and the Fair Trade mandate of ensuring that consumer dollars are truly benefiting producers and workers.

What it means?

Sustainable seafood third party verifiers are good ways of ensuring that the product you buy is mindful of the issues associated with the modern consumption of seafood. CFIA does not have regulations for this and leaves it to the discretion of the companies to have reliable claims. 

When you buy this certified (claim) product

You are supporting more sustainable fishing practices that focus on reducing the issues associated with overfishing, harming of by-catch and damage to natural habitats of fish communities. 


Vivien Wong, Certified Food Trainer and founder of Food Compass

Vivien hosted a Thursday Evening Lecture on Nov 3rd, this blog post is a summary