With strict standards regulating the information found on product packages today, it is no surprise that many products are covered in symbols, which can have many different meanings.
Food products can have symbols related to ingredients, nutritional information, dietary restrictions, and allergens. Similarly, cosmetic products can have symbols for certain ingredients and allergens, but also for things like ethical production and testing.
There are so many symbols that exist out in the marketplace, especially if you include international products, but here are some of the most common symbols found on food and cosmetic products here in the U.S.
The Non-GMO Project seal verifies that the product was made in an environment dedicated to NO Genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs are living organisms whose genetic material has been manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering, creating combinations of plant and animal genes that do not occur in nature. The Non-GMO Project offers independent verification of testing and GMO controls for U.S. and Canada based products.
This logo, created by the Gluten Free Certification Organization (GFCO), verifies that the food within the package contains no traces of gluten and that the product was not exposed to cross-contamination.
This logo has been added to product packaging as a response to the growing number of consumers interested in vegan products. Products with this label are verified to be free from any animal products or byproducts.
Produced by the USDA’s National Organic Program, this label represents the regulations and standards for products that are labeled as being produced organically. The products must have been produced in an environment that promotes sustainability where no synthetic fertilizers, irradiation, and/or genetic engineering is present.
This label can be found on honey, tea, chocolate, coffee, nuts, and grains. It certifies that the product was produced sustainably and fairly, benefiting the farmers and workers involved in its production.
This label, created by The Rainforest Alliance, can be found on coffee, tea, chocolate, and fruit juice, among other products. It ensures that the products were produced sustainably, with the smallest possible impact on the environment.
The label represents the OK Kosher Certification (the ‘O’ being the circle). This symbol is used internationally and can be found on thousands of popular products from major companies. Foods with this label have been certified by the organization’s 350 kosher experts.
Also signifying Kosher food, this OU label was created by the Orthodox Union to verify which modern foods abide by ancient dietary laws. This label is used internationally for hundreds of thousands of products and is the strictest kosher verification system. Because this labeling system is so strict, there are different variations of the OU that can be found on products.
These variations include:
OU — the food contains neither meat nor dairy, a “neutral” product
OU-D — dairy product
OU-M — the product is made with meat or meat ingredients
OU-F — the product is made with fish ingredients
Foods with packages marked with this symbol meet the American Heart Association’s requirements of low amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol for people over the age of two. Additionally, this symbol supports the American Heart Association’s food science and recommendations.
This stamp is put on Pack by Whole Grains Council. There are two different versions of this stamp, the Basic Stamp and the 100% Stamp. The product will only have the 100% Stamp if 100% of all the grains used in the product are whole grains. If all the grains are not whole grains but the product contains at least eight grams of whole grains, the product is given a Basic Stamp.
This label for meat, dairy, and poultry products certifies that the animals were raised humanely and in an environmentally-friendly manner. This independent, non-profit recognizes farms for maintaining the highest animal welfare and environmental standards.
Since 1877, American Humane Association has been ensuring the welfare, wellness and well-being of children and animals. They have been dedicated to improving child and animal welfare and have been at the forefront of every major progressive effort to protect children, farm animals, and companion animals from abuse and neglect.
This label was created by the Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) and, like the one above, it certifies that the animal products came from facilities that were proven to be raising and caring for their animals humanely.
Many also companies create their own standards and create a label for their products to create consumer trust. One example is the brand Happy Egg. They created their own clever symbol, call Happy Certified. They go beyond humane standards to create an ecosystem for their hens to flourish and thrive. They state they are committed to raising hens and eggs with love and make an extra effort to improve their hens’ welfare is what makes them happy calling their certification, Happy Certified. Beware, this kind of certification creation, does not always end happy. If it’s not back up by true claims, it can backfire like it did for the “Smart Choices” program.
PETA, an animal-welfare organization, created this symbol for verified companies to indicate that their products are strictly cruelty-free and are not tested on animals during any part of production.
Created by The Leaping Bunny Program, this label certifies that the product is cruelty-free and was not tested on animals. In order to display this label on their products, companies must take a pledge that none of their products or any ingredients have been tested on animals.
Period After Opening (POA) Symbol
Since cosmetics products can degrade over time and can cause products to go bad including causing skin infections, this label indicates the shelf-life of a product after opening before it is considered to be expired and should be thrown away. The number followed by the M stands for the specific number of months the product is good after opening. This information is typically given to you by your manufacturer.
This symbol, which can be shown on any type of products in addition to cosmetics, is normally found with product information on the package or product itself. It communicates that you are only seeing a portion of the total product information and might have to refer to a different part of the package or product for the rest of the information.
This E symbol indicates that the product was filled using “average fill system”. So, if this E appears under the amount in grams or milliliters on the package, it means that the product contains the amount advertised. This must appear on all products sold in the EU.
This green label is meant to show that the manufacturer of the product pays to recover and recycle it. While this label is used for recycling internationally, the program is only in Europe. This label is not meant to replace the general recycling symbol, but to be used in addition to it. For more details on how to use the Green Dot, go here.
This symbol on a packaging indicates that the product itself or at least one of its ingredients is flammable if it is exposed to high heat or a flame. It serves as a warning to keep the product away from sources of heat.
One of these six symbols, created and used by Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI), is usually found somewhere on plastic products. These symbols identify what type of polymer resin the plastic product is made out of so plastics of the same polymer resin types can be recycled properly together.
Are there any symbols you’ve seen that we should include in our list? Please comment below or email me to include them.