Organic Foods

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What is organic food?

Food that is labeled "organic" has been grown or raised without man-made chemical fertilizers, pest killers (pesticides), or weed killers (herbicides). And no hormones or drugs were used. This means that farmers and ranchers who grow organic food:

  • Use only natural pest killers. These include plant oils, soap, fungus-eating bacteria, and bugs that eat other bugs.
  • Use only natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost.
  • Feed their animals only organic food.
  • Don't give their animals antibiotics or growth hormones.
  • Don't use genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs are plants or animals whose genetic material has been altered.
  • Don't use irradiation. Irradiation means using X-rays or other types of rays to kill pests, change the way plants grow, or keep vegetables and fruits from spoiling as fast.

Some countries, including the United States, have rules that govern when a farmer or rancher may use the organic label. Before a grower can use that label, a government inspector goes to the farm to make sure that the rules are being followed.

Don't assume that food labeled "natural," "sustainable," "hormone-free," or "free-range" is organic. Look for the USDA organic seal.

What do you need to know about organic food?

Many people have these questions about organic food.

Is organic food safer?

Foods with the organic label have less pesticide residue than most nonorganic foods. Foods grown with pesticides can have small amounts of these chemicals left on the food when it gets to the store. There is not enough evidence to know if the small amount on nonorganic foods can be harmful.

Is it more nutritious?

There is not enough evidence to say that organic food has more nutrients than nonorganic food.

Is it better for children?

Children may be more sensitive than adults to pesticides and other chemicals because they are still growing. But there is not enough evidence to say that organic food is better for children than nonorganic foods.

How can you reduce exposure to chemicals?

Food grown with pesticides can have small amounts of pesticide left on the food when it gets to the store. You can take these steps to reduce pesticide residue.

  • Wash raw fruits and vegetables before you eat them.

    Wash them under running water. Use a scrub brush, and then rinse the food.

  • Peel vegetables such as carrots, and peel fruits such as apples.

    Peeling will remove pesticides that are on the peel. But it also removes fiber, vitamins, and minerals found in the skins.

  • Throw away the outer leaves of head lettuce and cabbage.

Related Information


Current as of: September 20, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.