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Frequently Asked Questions

About Food Scores

What is EWG’s Food Scores?

EWG’s Food Scores is an easy-to-navigate database created to help consumers make healthier, greener food choices. It was launched in 2014 and has ratings for more than 80,000 products. The ratings are based on nutrition, ingredient concerns and processing.

How long are products retained on EWG’s Food Scores?

Products will remain in the database for two years after the label information was recorded. Products whose label information was recorded more than one year earlier are flagged with a banner identifying them as an older product.

I can’t find my product. Can it be added to EWG’s Food Scores?

If you can’t find a particular product in the database, consider contacting the manufacturer. Companies can visit LabelINSIGHT.com to get more information on how products may be included. EWG does not have the ability to add products to the database directly.

Why are the ingredients listed on my product label different from the ingredients listed in EWG’s Food Scores?

Manufacturers occasionally change formulas and/or the text on food packaging. You may have bought an older version of a product, and we have a newer version in the database. Or you made have bought a newer version of a product and we have an older version in the database. If we have an older version of the product in the database, consider contacting the manufacturer. Companies can visit LabelINSIGHT.com to get more information on how products may be included.

Why are there multiple listings of the same product with different scores?

Scoring differences may occur because of variations in the formulations of a product. Sometimes two products that appear to be the same may not actually be identical. For example, some manufacturers add more sugar to single-serving breakfast cereals, so they may get a different score than their counterparts in family-sized packages. Similarly, if a manufacturer has reformulated a product but kept the same product name, the ingredients and/or nutritional content may be substantially different, leading to differences in scores.

Another reason why you might see different scores for similar products is variations in serving sizes. EWG’s nutrition algorithm is based a 100-gram serving of a particular food, not on the manufacturer’s suggested serving size, but we have made adjustments for products with large serving sizes – above 180 grams, or 180 milliliters in the case of liquids. For this reason, products with very large serving sizes will often score more poorly than the same food in a smaller package.

Finally, it is also possible that there is an error in the product’s data in the database. If you think you have spotted an error, please use the contact button provided on the product page to flag potential data issues.

I can’t find a product that used to be in the database. Why was it removed?

Products may be removed from the database if an error has been confirmed and we are in the process of resolving it. Also, if a product label was last captured more than two years earlier, the product will  be removed from the database permanently.

I represent a food company. How can I get our products in the database?

Products can be added to the database through EWG's data partner LabelINSIGHT. To get more information on how your products can be a part, visit LabelINSIGHT.com. EWG does not have the ability to add products to the database directly.

Why does EWG’s Food Scores link to Amazon?

EWG is enrolled as an Amazon affiliate and links to amazon.com from our site so that you can purchase food that may not be available at your local store. EWG receives up to 8.5 percent of the sale price of any item purchased through our Amazon portal. Please note that the food database links products to Amazon regardless of product rankings, and we do not endorse any particular products. If you represent a company and notice a product linked to an unauthorized seller, please notify EWG and we will make appropriate changes.

What should I do if I think I see an error on a food product page?

Each product page in the database has a contact button. Companies and consumers can use it to report errors or other issues about a specific product.

Will EWG’s Food Scores have a mobile app?

Yes! EWG’s Food Scores has a free mobile app available for iPhone and Android phones.  With the app you can easily scan barcodes while you’re shopping and use the database on the go! Download the app for iPhone here or Android here.

Products, scores and methods

How does EWG score products?

Products are scored on three criteria:
  • Nutrition. The nutrition-scoring algorithm considers multiple factors, including calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sugar, sodium, protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and fruit, vegetable and nut content.
  • Ingredient concerns. The ingredient concerns algorithm focuses on factors such as the likely presence of significant contaminants, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics as well as the health implications of certain food additives.
  • Processing. The processing score reflects our best estimate of the extent to which a particular food has been processed. Scoring factors include modification of individual ingredients from whole foods, the number of artificial ingredients and other factors.
We combine these three scores into a single overall product score. We weight nutrition most heavily, ingredient concerns next and processing relatively lightly. We rate all foods on a scale of 1 (best) to 10 (worst).

To read our full methodology, click here.

Where do you get the product information?

Product label information is provided by LabelINSIGHT, a company that compiles details about the ingredients in foods sold in American supermarkets.

Why do some products with higher ingredient concerns score fairly well overall?

A product’s ingredient concern score is only one of the aspects factored into the overall score. If a product has a higher ingredient concern score but scores well on nutrition, for example, the product may have a good-to-moderate score overall. For more details, read our detailed methodology here.

Why can’t I find some types of food in the database?

EWG’s Food Scores includes more than 80,000 products but intentionally excludes some food categories. In particular, the database excludes food products that are not normally consumed on their own, such as flour, sugar, sweeteners, baking soda, vanilla extract, oils, butter and butter-like spreads. EWG also does not include infant formula because an infant’s dietary needs are very different than those of toddlers and children, and the Food and Drug Administration closely regulates the nutritional content of infant formula. We may add additional food categories to the  database in the future, so check back next year if you are interested in a particular food category.

Why do many meats score poorly?

There are hundreds of meat products in EWG’s database that score well, but there are many others that score poorly for a variety of reasons. Some meat products may be high in saturated fat and/or sodium, causing them to score poorly on the nutrition scale. Some processed meats contain food additives of higher concern.  In addition, many meats from conventionally raised livestock have a high ingredient concern score to account for the risk posed by heavy use of antibiotics and growth-promoting drugs.

Most conventionally raised meat animals are fed low doses of antibiotics throughout their lives to speed growth or prevent disease, rather than to treat illness. Overuse of antibiotics promotes development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and poses grave risks for human health. Dairy animals and egg-laying chickens receive antibiotics less often than other animals, but crowded and unsanitary conditions mean they get sick more often than they should. Ingredient concern scores for antibiotic use in dairy and egg production reflect moderate concern for antibiotic resistance.

EWG advocates urgent action to reduce the overuse of antibiotics in meat and dairy production. The Food and Drug Administration has taken some recent steps to address the issue, but much more action is needed. Shoppers can promote safer meat, dairy and egg production by purchasing organic and certified antibiotic- and hormone-free meat and dairy products.

Why do many cheeses score poorly?

There are hundreds of cheeses in EWG’s database that score well, but many others score poorly for a variety of reasons. Cheese can be a good source of calcium and protein, but for many, a little goes a long way. A small amount of cheese usually packs a lot of calories, saturated fat and sodium. As a result, cheese is the number one source of saturated fat and one of the top sources of both sodium and calories in the American diet (USDA/DHHS 2010). That’s not surprising when you consider that it takes 10 pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese.

Cheese and other dairy products that are not certified organic are also assigned a moderate ingredient concern score to account for the overuse of antibiotics in conventional milk production. About one-fifth of American dairy cows receive injections of synthetic bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to boost milk production (FDA 2014).

In addition, EWG’s nutrition algorithm evaluates the nutritional qualities of food based on a 100-gram serving, which is more cheese than people commonly eat at a sitting. Aim for smaller serving sizes and remember that soft cheeses such as ricotta, cottage cheese and queso fresco tend to have fewer calories and less saturated fat.

Are products labeled “natural” any better than foods that don’t make that claim?

Many consumers confuse products labeled “natural” with those that are certified organic, but they are quite distinct categories. Certified organic food and ingredients are subject to rigorous production standards and must be carefully tracked along the line. The term “natural,” on the other hand, can be very misleading. The FDA has not formally defined what qualities make a food “natural.” It generally holds that there should be no artificial or synthetic ingredients in products labeled “natural,” but there is virtually no enforcement.

Meat products certified as natural by the U.S. Department of Agriculture should contain no artificial ingredients or added colors and be minimally processed, but they can still be produced with antibiotics and other medical treatments. In contrast, certified organic meats must be fed organic feed, can never be given antibiotics or other growth agents and must comply with animal welfare protections.

How does EWG score genetically engineered food in the database?

EWG believes that consumers should have the right to know whether their food contains ingredients that have been derived from genetically engineered crops. We are also concerned about the environmental impact of genetically engineered crops and the lack of government oversight over them. This is why the database contains information alerting consumers to the likelihood that a particular product contains ingredients that were genetically engineered. However, we do not factor in the presence or absence of GE ingredients into a product’s score in any way. We suggest that consumers who want to avoid GE ingredients check out EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Avoiding GE Food and/or purchase food that has been certified organic or Non-GMO Project Verified.

Should I completely avoid foods that score a 10?

There are many reasons why products may score poorly. For example, they may contain trans fats, be high in salt or contain questionable additives. EWG generally recommends you eat these foods sparingly and look for more healthful replacements. But the impact of any one ingredient or food depends on how much and how often you eat it. Some meats and cheese that may score poorly for nutrition can be part of a healthy diet, provided that you eat reasonable portions. EWG urges consumers to use common sense and eat a varied diet.

Why doesn’t EWG’s Food Scores consider greenhouse gas emissions, water use and other environmental considerations in its product scores?

EWG is concerned about the entire life cycle of food production and the associated environmental impact, but we were unable to include all these factors in our scoring system. A primary limitation was finding reliable data sets for some environmental factors. When data was available, we added some of this information to the “Other Information” section on product pages. For example, we may note that a product contains ingredients that were likely genetically engineered or that a product contains proteins whose production contributes minimally to greenhouse gas production. For more information about the lifecycle impact of meat production, please read EWG’s Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change.

Nutrition scoring

Where can I find EWG’s methodology for scoring nutrition?

Our algorithm is a modified version of Ofcom, a nutrition profiling system developed by Oxford University and the U.K. Food Standards Agency. Peer-reviewed publications and industry researchers have confirmed its merit. EWG’s algorithm differentiates between healthful and less healthful foods by considering calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sugar, sodium, protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, fruit, vegetable and nut content and other factors. For more information, read our full nutrition scoring methodology here.

Why doesn’t EWG’s nutrition algorithm consider vitamins, antioxidants or phytonutrients in foods?

Data on factors such as antioxidants and phytonutrients aren’t readily available for most foods in the grocery store. Including easily fortifiable vitamins, such as vitamin C or folate, as a scoring factor would open the door for highly processed products to score better than foods that are otherwise nutrient-dense but lack those key nutrients.

Our approach is simpler and bases nutrition ratings on factors that are most conclusively linked to health. It also includes the product’s fruit, vegetable, bean and nut content, which encompasses foods that are naturally rich in vitamins, antioxidants and other nutrients and have a proven track record of promoting health and reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke and some types of cancers.

Are foods compared on a per-calorie, per-serving, or a per-gram basis?

EWG’s nutrition rating system is derived from Ofcom, a nutrition rating system developed by the British government. Ofcom compares the beneficial and detrimental qualities of food based on a 100-gram serving (3.5 ounces, or slightly smaller than a deck of cards). The model assesses the nutritional quality of foods regardless of how much or how frequently they are eaten.

EWG modified this algorithm for foods with very large serving sizes. Once serving sizes listed on food packages exceed 180 grams, the nutrition score changes to reflect that a larger quantity of the food is typically eaten per serving. We did not adjust nutrition scores for foods typically eaten in smaller portions. For more information, read our full nutrition scoring methodology here.

How accurate are EWG’s nutrition scores across food categories?

An inherent challenge in rating food products is designing a single formula that accurately weighs many different positive and negative qualities across the range of food categories. EWG also faced the difficulty of rating foods without the all-important context of knowing how much of it and how often it is typically eaten.

The Ofcom nutrition algorithm bases its assessment on a 100-gram serving and is designed to compare the nutritional qualities irrespective of the amount eaten. EWG modified this score to account for foods with much larger serving sizes, such as frozen meals and beverages. However, some foods such as cheese, gravy, half-and-half and salad dressings are typically consumed in less than 100-gram portions, so the nutrition scores for these foods may be worse than they would be in a system based on serving sizes. When looking at foods that score poorly, remember that how much and how often you eat it can be just as important as the overall nutrition score.

EWG’s scores are most meaningful within a single category – finding the best cracker, dessert or yogurt. When comparing two different types of foods, you must take into account how much and how often you eat it.

How does the nutrition score penalize fats?

Our scoring system assigns negative points to foods based on the amount of saturated and trans fat but not overall fat content. (For more information, read our full nutrition scoring methodology here.)

Saturated fat is not an essential nutrient and increased intake raises the risk of heart disease. For this reason it has long been known as a “bad” fat that raises “bad” cholesterol. Many health authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommend that people limit saturated fat to 10 percent of calories – equivalent to 14 slices of bacon – a day. A 2012 review by the Cochrane Collaboration, an independent non-profit organization, found that reducing or replacing saturated fat with other, more healthful fats reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 14 percent (Hooper 2012). Other recent reviews, however, have found that there is no evidence of a benefit from limiting saturated fat (Chowdhury 2014, Schwingshackl 2014). While it’s clear that we still have a lot to learn about how fats contribute to disease, the evidence supporting a moderate level of saturated fat consumption remains strong.

Manmade trans fats made from vegetable oils are popular because they are cheap and stable. The Institute of Medicine recommends that trans fat consumption be kept as low as possible (IOM 2005). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that eliminating manmade trans fats could prevent up to 20,000 heart attacks and up to 7,000 deaths each year (Dietz 2012). In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration made a tentative determination that trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils, the primary dietary source, should no longer be classified as “Generally Recognized As Safe” (FDA 2013).

How does EWG distinguish between natural and added sugars?

Americans average 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, far more than the recommended maximum of 6-to-12 teaspoons. Excess sugar consumption has been associated with a host of illnesses, including heart disease, colon cancer and obesity. 

Added sugars – such granulated sugar, glucose, molasses and high-fructose corn syrup – are of more concern than natural sugars such as raisins or fruit juice because they add calories without providing other nutrients such as potassium, vitamin C or fiber. That said, eating too much natural sugar may also cause health problems. Eating too much of any type of sugar can also lead to tooth decay.

EWG’s nutrition algorithm is designed such that a box of raisins with 24 grams of natural sugar scores differently on sugar than a chocolate pudding with 24 grams of added sugar. But natural sugar doesn’t get a free pass, and the presence of a lot of natural sugar will affect a product’s nutrition score. For more information, read our full nutrition scoring methodology here.

How does EWG determine how much fruit, vegetable and nuts are in a product?

An important element of EWG’s nutrition score is the amount of minimally processed fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans in a food. These wholesome ingredients are key components of a healthy diet. Minimally processed fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans have not had important nutrients such as fiber and vitamins removed.

EWG evaluated thousands of food ingredients to determine which met our criteria for minimal processing. Ingredients such as fruit juice are not considered minimally processed because they do not contain the natural fibers of whole fruit. Since the amount of each ingredient is not listed on food labels, EWG uses a probability-based formula to estimate the fruit, vegetable and nut content based on the order of ingredients listed. For more information, read our full nutrition scoring methodology here.

I thought fiber was a good thing in food. Why does EWG penalize some extracted fiber ingredients?

Fiber can be extracted from industrial byproducts such as wood pulp or plant starches, made into a powder and added to highly processed foods to increase their fiber content and supposed healthfulness.

Studies have confirmed the beneficial effects of a high-fiber diet rich in fruit, vegetables, beans and whole grains, but there is less data on the potential benefits of added fibers and whether they confer any health benefits once they have been extracted from the original sources (IOM 2001; Jones 2012; Turner 2011). For more information on how EWG scores fiber, read our full nutrition scoring methodology here.

What is EWG’s position on low-calorie sweeteners?

Low-calorie sweeteners are used to impart a sweet taste without the calories or glucose effects of sugar. It remains uncertain, however, whether they reduce overall calorie intake, aid weight loss or improve health (Gardner 2014; Shankar 2013). There are also questions as to whether low-calorie sweeteners condition people to crave sweet foods and therefore eat smaller amounts of healthful foods (Mattes 2009; IOM 2007). The Institute of Medicine recommends that schools not serve diet foods or beverages to young children (IOM 2007). EWG agrees that people should limit consumption of both sugar and low-calorie sweeteners (Swithers 2013; Shankar 2013). Beverages with low-calorie sweeteners generally score better than beverages sweetened with sugar because there are clear indications that eating too much sugar is bad for health, but the jury is still out when it comes to many low-calorie sweeteners. Some low-calorie sweeteners raise more concerns than others and are scored accordingly in EWG’s Food Scores. Read more about low calorie sweeteners here.

What is EWG’s position on fortified foods?

Food manufacturers often fortify foods to make products seem more nutritious, but excessive fortification can lead to over-consumption of certain nutrients, particularly vitamin A, zinc and niacin. Young children are most vulnerable to ingesting excessive amounts of vitamins, because nutrients are often added to fortified food in amounts calculated based on adult needs. The best way to get vitamins is through a varied diet of plant-based foods. For more information on over-fortification, read EWG’s report How much is too much? Excess Vitamins and Minerals in Food Can Harm Kids’ Health

How does EWG score omega-3 fats in food?

EWG boosts the scores of fish and shellfish that have high concentrations of two long-chain omega-3 fatty acids known as DHA and EPA. A diet rich in omega-3s has been shown to provide a variety of health benefits, including lowering the risk of heart attack. Studies have also shown that babies of women who eat seafood rich in omega-3s have better brain development. One serving of seafood that EWG identifies as being high in omega-3 provides half of the weekly recommendation of DHA and EPA for a pregnant women or a person at risk of heart disease; one serving of a moderate omega-3 fish or shellfish provides one fourth to one half of the weekly recommendation. Other people also benefit from high omega-3 fish and shellfish but don’t need to make as much as an effort to eat these foods routinely. See more of EWG’s seafood recommendations here.

EWG does not apply a similar score boost for grass-fed meat and dairy or omega-3- fortified eggs and milk. While these foods are generally healthful, they typically have far less DHA and EPA than a serving of seafood.

A third omega-3 fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid or ALA, is generally beneficial to people with heart disease. ALA is found in some soybean and canola oils, walnuts, flax and chia seeds and other foods. The body converts a small amount of ALA to long-chain omega-3s, but ALA-rich foods are not necessarily a reliable source of long-chain omega-3s for pregnant women. EWG does not consider ALA content of food in its nutrition scores.

Ingredient concerns scoring

What are ingredient concerns and where can I find EWG’s methodology for scoring them?

The ingredient concerns algorithm focuses on such factors as the likely presence of significant contaminants, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics and the health implications of certain food additives. The full ingredient concerns scoring methodology can be found here.

As part of our effort to assess ingredient concerns in the food supply, EWG reviewed safety data for hundreds of food additives in FDA’s food additives database and the scientific literature and identified several contaminants linked to human health concerns – mercury, arsenic and persistent organic pollutants. Ingredient concern scores can also reflect hazards posed by food production. EWG applied ingredient concern scores to capture use of pesticides to grow produce and use of antibiotics and growth hormones in meat and dairy products.

Did EWG consider the risks posed by chemicals in food packaging?

Generally no, because data on individual product packaging and potential contaminants is not readily available. EWG did, however, take a hard look at the use of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in canned food. This hormone-disrupting chemical is in the BPA-based epoxy linings of most canned foods. EWG surveyed hundreds of food manufacturers to identify those using BPA-free cans. Canned foods receive an ingredient concern score for BPA contamination unless the manufacturer uses BPA-free cans. As data becomes available, we may consider concerns posed by other food packaging contaminants.

Do all canned foods have BPA in the can lining?

No. Because of the growing concerns surrounding the safety of BPA in food can linings, some companies have chosen to use alternatives. EWG surveyed hundreds of food manufacturers to identify those using BPA-free cans and incorporated this information into the food database scores.

In 2007 EWG testing found BPA in canned baby formula, which spurred the industry to package its products in BPA-free packaging. In 2013 FDA amended its food packaging regulation to prohibit the use of BPA-based epoxies in infant formula cans. For more information on BPA, click here. To read more about how EWG scored BPA in the food database, read the full ingredient concerns scoring methodology here.

Why is EWG concerned about flavors? Does EWG score natural flavors better than artificial flavors?

Artificial and natural flavors are added to thousands of products. They are complex mixtures of chemicals that modify and manipulate the taste and smell of foods. EWG gives the same ingredient concern score to natural and artificial flavors. We assign a slightly lower ingredient concern score to foods with organic natural flavors because they face more stringent restrictions on the use of solvents and preservatives.

Flavor ingredients are complex and proprietary mixtures of chemicals and solvents. There is no public disclosure about the components of flavor additives. Some chemicals used in both natural and artificial flavors have been linked to problems at high doses. One is diacetyl, an artificial butter flavor. Read more about natural and artificial flavors here.

How often can I eat seafood with high mercury levels?

Mercury is toxic to the brain and nervous system. The risks are most serious for the developing fetus and young children. The amount of fish you can eat depends on mercury concentrations, your age and weight. Use EWG’s Good Seafood Guide and Seafood Calculator to determine how much of a fish or shellfish you can safely eat and to find the safest and most healthful choices. EWG’s Best Bets – wild salmon, farmed trout, sardines, mussels and Atlantic mackerel – contain the greatest amount of beneficial fatty acids and are low in mercury. EWG has incorporated mercury contaminant information into our ingredient concern scoring system to help consumers identify which products may contain moderate or high mercury levels. To read more about how EWG scored mercury in the food database, read the full ingredient concerns scoring methodology here.

What are the implications for human health of heavy metal contamination of food?

Heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium and lead sometimes pollute fruits, vegetables grains and seafood. These metals are elements found in water and soil, but high concentrations may result from industrial activity. Some agricultural lands have elevated concentrations of heavy metals due to the use of lead and arsenic-based pesticides and cadmium from phosphate-based fertilizers.

Monitoring studies have found that rice is the predominant source of arsenic exposure in the American diet. Rice accumulates high levels of arsenic due to its physiology and growing conditions. EWG’s Food Scores database identifies arsenic as a contaminant in rice and foods with rice bran, rice flour or rice sweetener.

The European Food Safety Authority has determined that lead and cadmium pose a concern in the food supply (EFSA 2009; EFSA 2013). These metals are detected in a variety fruits, vegetables, and grains, including baby foods (FDA 2011a). Organic foods contain less cadmium than conventionally-grown crops (Baranski 2014). Since elevated lead and cadmium levels are found in many different types of agricultural products, government action is necessary to reduce concentrations in the food supply. EWG urges the federal Food and Drug Administration to move more aggressively to reduce sources of lead and cadmium in food.

The federal government has taken action to reduce lead levels in food (FDA 2011b). Banning lead from gasoline resulted in fewer residues of airborne lead on food crops. The FDA has set legal maximum limits on lead in foods and vitamins. It barred lead solder from metal food cans.

The FDA has been slower to address arsenic in the food supply. It set a non-binding “action level” of 10 parts billion of arsenic in apple juice. It recently launched a program to evaluate the threat to human health from arsenic in rice and products made from rice-based ingredients. The agency is examining cancer risks associated with arsenic accumulation in rice and is considering actions to reduce arsenic concentrations in rice-based foods.

EWG has concluded that the presence of arsenic in rice presents a unique health threat. Arsenic causes bladder, skin and lung cancer. We recommend that you limit consumption of rice and rice-based food when possible and instead seek out lower-arsenic grains and sweeteners. Read more about EWG's evaluation of arsenic risks in rice-based foods here.

Why is EWG concerned about arsenic contamination in rice?

Rice plants naturally accumulate arsenic from soil and water. Tests by the FDA and Consumer Reports have found higher arsenic levels in rice, rice pasta, rice crackers and rice cereal than in other foods. In 2001, the National Academy of Sciences estimated that someone drinking arsenic-contaminated water at 10 parts per billion would have a 1-in-300 risk of developing cancer over a lifetime (NAS 2001). Recent research suggests that people ingest about that much arsenic in a just a half-cup of rice, not an unusual amount for millions of Americans (Gilbert-Diamond 2011). Contrary to some food industry claims, the contamination does include the form of arsenic that poses a serious risk to health. It’s long overdue for federal agencies to set health-protective limits on arsenic in food, but they are not moving quickly. EWG believes that consumers should be aware of this potential contaminant and choose their foods wisely. We have factored the potential for arsenic contamination into our scoring of rice and many rice-based products. To read more about how EWG scored arsenic in the food database, read the full ingredient concerns scoring methodology here. You can also find easy-to-use tips on how you can reduce your and your family’s exposure here.

What are persistent organic pollutants (POPs)? What foods are they in?

Persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, are industrial contaminants such as dioxins, furans and PCBs. They accumulate in the food chain and are found in highest concentrations in some seafood and high-fat meat and dairy products. EWG identifies POPs as concerns in some seafood and in fatty cuts of beef, lamb and dairy products. To read more about how EWG scored POPs in the food database, read the full ingredient concerns scoring methodology here.

How does EWG account for antibiotics, hormones and growth promoters fed to conventional meat and dairy?

Conventionally raised meat and dairy animals are commonly treated with antibiotics and other drugs to speed animal growth and boost milk production. In fact, most of the antibiotics used in America are fed to meat and dairy animals, not necessarily when they are sick. Conventionally raised meat animals (beef, pork, chicken, turkey and veal) are most frequently fed low doses of antibiotics to hasten growth and prevent disease. These uses raise a high concern for human health because they promote the development of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria sicken and kill thousands of Americans each year.

Dairy cows and chickens raised for egg production receive antibiotics less frequently, but still more often than they should. There is very little data on the intensity of antibiotic administration in other animals but they are thought to be less heavily treated than other livestock.

In addition to antibiotics, meat and dairy animals are commonly fed other unnecessary agents to speed growth and increase milk output. Beef, pork and sometimes turkey are fed synthetic adrenal hormones to help them bulk up and make meat less fatty. Some beef cattle and sheep are implanted with hormone pellets containing natural or synthetic sex hormones to speed growth. About one fifth of dairy cows are injected with synthetic bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to boost milk production (FDA 2014). All of these practices are banned in Europe because of animal welfare concerns and potential effects on human health.

Organic meat and dairy producers cannot use antibiotics or other growth-promoting treatments. Products certified as antibiotic-free can only use antibiotics infrequently to combat illness and must not use any growth-boosting agents, but the reliability of these certifications varies. In addition to certified products, some foods claim to be antibiotic-free and/or free of hormones and growth promoters. EWG assigns ingredient concern scores to meat and dairy products depending on the intensity of antibiotic use, other production-boosting treatments, or, for antibiotic-free meat, how well verified the claims are. To read more about how EWG scored antibiotics and hormones in the food database, read the full ingredient concerns scoring methodology here.

How does EWG account for pesticide use in the scoring system?

Pesticide residues are commonly detected on fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods. Pesticide use also poses concerns for workers, people living on or near farms and the environment. EWG accounts for the hazards of pesticide use in conventional foods in two ways:
  • For raw fruits and vegetables, we base our ingredient concern score on test data showing the number of different pesticide residues detected and the average concentration of pesticides as detailed in EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Organic fruits and vegetables get the best scores.
  • For others foods, we assign a half-point to the overall score to account for differences in the production and ingredients approved for organic versus conventional foods. For products that are certified to contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients, we add only 0.2 points to the overall score.
To read more about how EWG scores conventional and organic food in the food database, read the full ingredient concerns scoring methodology and the overall scoring methodology here.

Why do some organic products score more poorly than some conventional products?

All other things being equal, certified organic products will always score better than conventional products in the database. However, differences in nutrition scores, other factors in the ingredient concern score or differences in the processing concern score influence the overall score. Since nutrition tends to drive the overall score for products, if a conventional product scores significantly better on nutrition than a similar organic product, it will likely score better than the organic product. To read more about how EWG scored conventional and organic food in the food database, read the full ingredient concerns scoring methodology and the overall scoring methodology here.

I thought the government regulates what goes in my food and how it’s made. Why is EWG concerned about the healthfulness of food ingredients?

Unfortunately, the reality today is that just because a food ingredient is legal, that doesn't mean that it’s necessarily safe. For example, food may contain contaminants or food additives whose safety has not been adequately evaluated, and food can be produced using antibiotics and pesticides that pose risks to both human health and the environment. EWG’s Food Scores database provides a resource to help consumers make informed decisions about what foods are right for them and their families.

Processing concerns scoring

Where can I find your methodology for scoring processing concerns?

Click here for more information about our scoring methodology for processing.

Why does EWG rate foods based on the degree of processing?

Whole foods are almost always the healthiest choices, but our busy lives mean that most of us sometimes turn to processed foods. We want to help consumers find less processed versions of their favorite foods. 

How much does processing factor into a product’s overall score?

In scoring a food, we give the processing score the least weight. How much weight the processing score is given varies depending on the product. As the processing score increases, it is given more weight in the overall score.

Why does the processing concern dial have only three levels?

Because there is limited information available about specific ingredient sources and processing steps, EWG relied on general information from food manufacturing reference books, patents, ingredient encyclopedias and government agency reports, among others. These resources allowed us to tally the typical processing steps for ingredients and food types. But because of the lack of specificity, EWG classifies food processing into just three categories. Click here for more information about our methodology for evaluating food processing.

How can you score foods on processing when you don’t know exactly how foods were made or ingredients were processed?

EWG faced a challenging task when we decided to give consumers guidance in finding less processed options for their favorite foods. Although we had limited data to work with, EWG’s processing score reflects our best estimate of the extent to which a particular food product has been processed. Scoring factors include the degree to which individual ingredients have been modified from whole foods and the number of artificial ingredients in a product. Click here for more information about our methodology for evaluating food processing.


Why does EWG only acknowledge select certifications on product pages?

The food certifications displayed in EWG’s Food Scores are driven by the information available to us from our data provider, LabelINSIGHT, and by our decision to display only certifications that are rigorously validated.

We display food certifications and seals for USDA certified organic, Oregon Tilth certified organic, California Certified Organic Farmers, NON-GMO Project Verified and Certified Gluten-Free.

We display certification data for two animal welfare standards – Certified Humane and Animal Welfare Approved – both of which require meat and dairy producers to avoid unnecessary antibiotic treatments and all hormones and growth promoters. To capture information about other meat and dairy products that might be raised without antibiotics and growth hormones, we also identify antibiotic- and hormone-free claims on food packaging. We also identify packaging claims that meat or dairy products came from grass-fed animals. In the future we may expand the number of certifications we display.

Do certifications boost a product’s score?

Some certifications can improve a product’s score. Products that are certified organic get a half-point boost in the overall score. EWG also factored in certifications and claims for antibiotic- and hormone-free meat and dairy into the ingredient concern score. Other certifications, such as gluten-free and GE-free, are reflected on the product page but do not factor into the score. We may add additional certifications as more data become available. To read our full methodology on how certifications may affect product scoring, click here.

For food manufacturers

I represent a food company. EWG’s Food Scores lists a formulation we no longer make. Can I update the listing?

Products remain in the database for two years after the label information is recorded in stores, even when the product has been discontinued, because it may continue to be sold or stored in pantries long past the date it ceased to be manufactured. However, EWG can flag a discontinued product in the database. Please contact us. You may also contact us if you have reformulated a product. Please be advised that EWG does not have the ability to update product formulations in the database directly. In order to be reflected in EWG’s Food Scores, the new formulation must be added to LabelINSIGHT. To get more information on how your products can be a part, visit LabelINSIGHT.com.

I represent a food company. How can I get our products into EWG’s Food Scores?

Products can be added to the database through EWG’s data partner LabelINSIGHT. To get more information on how your products can be a part, visit LabelINSIGHT.com. EWG does not have the ability to add products to the database directly.

I represent a food company. EWG’s Food Scores is showing a product image that I believe needs to be updated. Can I provide a new image?

If you would like EWG to change the image for a product, please contact us. EWG uses images provided by Kwikee® and itemMaster®, so EWG will need to be provided access to the preferred image via one of these systems.

I represent a food company and I believe our product’s name, ingredient list or nutrition facts need to be updated. What should I do?

Please contact us. We will respond about how to address the issue as soon as we are able.

If EWG’ Food Scores indicates that a product has a contamination concern, can the company provide scientific data to show that the concern is not valid?

Companies may contact us to submit evidence that a product does not in fact contain a listed contaminant, as well as studies and other pertinent information. EWG will consider such submissions but makes no commitment to act on the information received. Any action to supplement or modify the database is a function of EWG’s professional judgment and expertise.

My product is made with 70 percent or more organic ingredients and complies with USDA’s requirements for being labeled as “made with organic ingredients,” but I do not see this reflected on EWG’s product page. Can I get this information added?


Baransky M, Srednicka-Tober D, Volakakis N, et al. 2014. Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. British Journal of Nutrition 112:794-841. http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FBJN%2FBJN112_05%2FS0007114514001366a.pdf

Chowdhury R, Warnakula S, Kunutsor S, et al. 2014. Association of dietary, circulating, and supplement fatty acids with coronary risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 160(6): 398-406

Dietz WH, Scanlon KS. 2012. Eliminating the use of partially hydrogenated oil in food production and preparation. JAMA. 308(2): 143-4

EFSA 2009a. Scientific Opinion – Cadmium in Food. Scientific Opinion of the Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (Question No EFSA-Q-2007-138). European Food Safety Authority. January 30, 2009. http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/scdocs/doc/980.pdf

EFSA 2013. Scientific Opinion on Lead in Food. European Food Safety Authority Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain. March 22, 2013. http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/1570.pdf

FDA (Food and Drug Administration). 2008. Draft Assessment of Bisphenol A for use in Food Contact Applications. Available: www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/ac/08briefing/2008-0038b1_01_02_fda%20bpa%20draft%20assessment.pdf

FDA. 2011a. Total Diet Study. Data Summaries 1991-2011. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodScienceResearch/TotalDietStudy/default.htm

FDA. 2011b. Reported Findings of Low Levels of Lead in Some Food Products Commonly Consumed by Children. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm233520.htm, last updated November 29, 2011.

FDA (Food and Drug Administration). 2013. Tentative Determination Regarding Partially Hydrogenated Oils; Request for Comments and for Scientific Data and Information. Fed. Reg. Vol 78, No. 217: 67169 -67175, November 8, 2013. Available: https://federalregister.gov/a/2013-26854/tentative-determination-regarding-partially-hydrogenated-oils-request-for-comments-and-for [Accessed Sept. 30, 2014]

FDA. 2014. Bovine Somatotropin (BST). Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/ProductSafetyInformation/UCM383073.pdf

Gardner C. 2014. Non-nutritive sweeteners: evidence for benefit vs. risk. Curr Opin Lipidol. 25(1): 80-4

Hooper L, Summerbell CD, Thompson R, Sills D, Roberts FG, Moore HJ, Davey Smith G. 2012. Reduced or modified dietary fat for preventing cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 5: CD002137

IOM (Institute of Medicine). 2001. Dietary Reference Intakes: Proposed Definition of Dietary Fiber. Available: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10161 [Accessed June, 2014]

IOM (Institute of Medicine). 2005. National Research Council. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients). Available: [Accessed June, 2014]

IOM (Institute of Medicine). 2007. National Research Council. Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools: Leading the Way Toward Healthier Youth. Available: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11899 [Accessed June 2014]

IOM (Institute of Medicine). 2010. Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States. Available: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12818 [Accessed June, 2014]

Jones JM, Klurfeld DM, Slavin J, et al. 2012. Preparing for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines: Attributes of Refined Grains, Added Fibers, and Bran. Cereal Foods World. 57(2): 86-87

Mattes RD, Popkin BM. 2009. Nonnutritive sweetener consumption in humans: effects on appetite and food intake and their putative mechanisms. Am J Clin Nutr. 89(1): 1-14

Schwingshackl L, Hoffmann G. 2014. Dietary fatty acids in the secondary prevention of coronary heart disease: a systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression. BMJ Open. 4(4): e004487

Shankar P, Ahuja S, Sriram K. 2013. Non-nutritive sweeteners: review and update. Nutrition. 29(11-12): 1293-9

Swithers S. 2013. Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements. Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism. (9):431-41

Turner ND, Lupton JR. 2011. Dietary Fiber. Adv Nutr 2(2): 151-2

USDA and DHHS (United States Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services). 2010. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Available: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/dietaryguidelines.htm


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