Food labels might read ‘natural,’ but that doesn’t mean much

WASHINGTON — If you’re carefully selecting food for your Memorial Day cookout, don’t be misled by labels touting “natural” ingredients. You could be getting more than you bargained for.

The shredded cheddar cheese you might sprinkle on a hot dog prominently displays the words “natural cheese” under the Kraft label, but bright orange coloring is an added ingredient. The coloring comes from nature, but the final product didn’t happen naturally.

Consumer Reports’ ShopSmart magazine details a number of examples of food labels using variations on the word “natural” that are meaningless.

Crystal Light Natural Lemonade Drink Mix is almost all chemicals, the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest says, but a California judge rejected arguments that the Crystal Light label on “Natural Lemon Iced Tea” is misleading.

Kikkoman Soy Sauce that is labeled as “naturally brewed” includes a synthetic preservative common in processed foods.

Other examples of items with ingredients not found in nature that use variations of the word “natural” on labels include Fiber One Chewy Bars and Molly McButter All Natural Butter Flavor Sprinkles.

People striving to eat truly natural foods might want to read ingredient lists carefully when labels use phrases such as “All Natural,” “Naturally Flavored” and “Made with Natural Ingredients.”

Responding to consumer complaints, ShopSmart notes some companies have made adjustments to either ingredient lists or labels.

For example, if you’re slathering ribs with sauce at this weekend’s cookout, you can rest assured that Stubb’s Smokey Mesquite Bar-B-Q Sauce is now truly “All Natural.”

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