What puts the “clean” in clean label?

A lot of food manufacturers are being asked by their customers for clean label options. Some are even asking to completely transition to clean label versions of their existing products.

Many times, this request is met with some confusion as to what the term “clean label” really means.

The answer is:
It means different things to different people.
There is no legal or regulatory standard for clean label.

Consumers want product labels and ingredient statements that are simple and easy to understand. It all boils down to TRUST. The consumer wants to be able to understand the label and ingredient statement, so they can TRUST that what is in the package is healthy and wholesome for themselves and their family.

The clean label trend is about
simplicity, trust, and transparency.


Here are some common examples of terms that are used to describe products considered clean label:
All-natural ingredients
No artificial ingredients
No artificial preservatives
No artificial colors
Minimally processed

Here are some example descriptions for clean label:
• Food that is in its most natural state; or as close as possible.
• Free of chemical additives, simple ingredient statement, and minimally processed or processed using traditional techniques.
• Simply prepared; like you would make at home. Made with ingredients you would find in your kitchen cupboard.


There is technically no regulatory definition for “natural” from the FDA or USDA. However, these agencies have said that they will not object to the use of the term natural if it meets the following criteria:
FDA – Does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.
USDA – No artificial ingredients; Minimally processed. (Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter   the product.)

By these terms, most products that meet the qualifications of “natural” would likely be considered clean label as well.


The additional challenge for food manufacturers is the change in the quality and consistency of their products that is a result of removing some of these ingredients.

For example:
Sodium Phosphate – very important for moisture retention and juiciness of the final products.
Modified Food Starch – critical to the texture of many food products
Sodium Nitrate/Nitrite – important preservative for protection against bacteria like Clostridium botulinum.

This link has published lists from some major retailers and the ingredients that they consider to qualify as clean label.

To help with these prospective challenges, work with your ingredient supplier to help with formulating clean label products that meet everyone’s needs.

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