Decoding NAE, NAI, and Clean Label
As we all have experienced, deciphering and understanding the myriad of terms on food labels can be very confusing and overwhelming as we decide what to eat. On meat products in particular, you may have noticed a couple new labeling terms and acronyms popping up in recent years. These include NAE (no antibiotics ever), NAI (no artificial ingredients) and clean label. The availability of products produced without antibiotics and artificial ingredients has greatly increased due to customer demand for these products. Many popular restaurant chains and food manufacturers are following this trend by serving and carrying products that boast these terms. What do these terms actually mean? Read on below to learn more about these terms in relation to chicken products.
NAE (No Antibiotics Ever) and Raised Without Antibiotics
The term “No Antibiotics Ever” on chicken products means that the chicken was never exposed to antibiotics from the time it was in the egg to final processing. On the other hand, the definition of “raised without antibiotics” can indicate that the chicken may have been exposed to antibiotics while in the egg but did not come into contact with antibiotics after hatching.
Due to concerns that increased exposure to antibiotics in our food may cause antibiotic resistance in humans, many innovations have been made to raise chickens to keep them healthy and avoid the use of antibiotics. These innovations include personalized nutrition plans, the use of probiotics and vaccines, barns with better air circulation and temperature controls and training and education programs for farmers and workers. However, there are still cases where a chicken gets sick and needs to be treated with antibiotics. If this occurs, the chicken will be removed from the NAE flock and will be sold under another label. Even if a chicken is treated with antibiotics, the FDA and USDA has testing and monitoring programs that ensure there is a sufficient withdrawal period before the bird can be released from the farm so that the meat sold at the grocery store does not contain any antibiotic residue.
NAI: No Artificial Ingredients
For centuries, humans have been adding additional ingredients to foods to prevent spoilage. The first food preservation practices included salting meat and fish, adding sugar to canned foods and pickling vegetables. These additives helped keep the food safe, flavorful, nutritious and affordable. These ancient food preservation practices still exist today in addition to thousands of other ingredients and compounds that may be less recognizable when we read them on food ingredient lists. Like with the use of antibiotics, the use of additional ingredients, colors and additives is concerning to some consumers. In the U.S., all food additives are carefully regulated to ensure that they are safe for human consumption and accurately identified on labels. All additives used in food products in the U.S. are “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). This means that there is “reasonable certainty in the minds of compound scientists, that the substance is not harmful under the intended conditions of use”.
Food additives can be considered “natural” or “artificial”. Natural additives are derived from natural sources (like lecithin from corn or soybeans for thickening and beet or turmeric powder to provide color). Artificial ingredients are those not found in nature and are synthetically produced. However, some ingredients found in nature can be made in a lab more economically and efficiently. One good example is vitamin C or ascorbic acid. This ingredient is found in nature in oranges but can also be made in a lab. Regardless if the ingredient is natural or artificial, it is subject to the same safety standards set by FDA. If a food product contains only ingredients that can be found in the natural world, the food can label itself as “NAI”.
To make things a little more confusing, there isn’t one singular definition of “clean label”. Loosely defined, “clean” means the food is as close to its natural state as possible. In general, this means the product is free from additives and artificial ingredients. Like NAE and NAI, consumers are becoming more interested in this term and looking for identifiable ingredients in foods. Additionally, for some consumers, the definition of “clean label” can be expanded to include how the food was grown and made. While the definition of “clean” is unclear, it is clear that the definition is always changing based on what the consumer is currently demanding.
At Pilgrim’s Pride, we offer a wide range of products to meet the needs of all customers. In the Just Bare line of chicken, these high-quality products are fed a vegetarian and grain diet, contain no artificial ingredients, no soy, no antibiotics and have no added hormones. Plus, the chickens are American Humane Certified. The Gold Kist NAE line provides have no antibiotics and no artificial ingredients and are perfect for the needs of K-12 food operations. Visit www.justbarechicken.com and goldkist.com to learn more about these new product lines and how they can fit the needs of your operation and customers.