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What Do R.A.W., C.L.E.A.N. and Certified Transitional Food Labels Mean?

If you finally understand what certified organic, gluten-free and non-GMO labels on food packaging mean, your label education is still not over. Now, certified R.A.W, certified C.L.E.A.N. and certified transitional are increasingly visible on grocery store products country-wide.

Here's what you need to know about each:


Certified R.A.W. is an acronym for Real, Alive and Whole. It can only describe plant-based foods, as well as foods that include milk, eggs and honey – if they've been humanely harvested. For a product to use this label on its packaging, it must be 100-percent non-GMO and a majority of the ingredients need to be organic. All ingredients must have a high amount of bio-available enzymes – in other words, the body must be able to absorb its nutrients readily. They also need to be minimally processed, or processed below 212 degrees F, to ensure that food is safe, and to also preserve as many enzymes as possible. (Raw food proponents believe that higher temperatures can reduce the bioavailability of vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients.)

Additionally, R.A.W. foods must have a good ANDI score, which stands for Aggregate Nutrient Density Index. It's a method of rating foods based on their nutrient density, or how packed full of nutrients a food is per calorie. In this ranking system, 1,000 is the highest score (kale is up at the top) and 0 is theoretically the lowest, although soda falls at the bottom with a score of 1.

Not everyone agrees with the ANDI method because it's based on calories, not the volume or weight of a food, so a lower-calorie food with more nutrients scores higher than a calorie-dense food, which is why the greens are at the top of the list and other healthy foods including avocado, eggs and yogurt only rank in the 20s to 30s.

Finally, to be eligible for a R.A.W. certification, a food company must have a HACCP – or Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point – plan in place. Essentially, this means it meets the global industry standard for keeping food safe to eat, since consumers may worry that "raw" foods could make them sick. Companies must use a third-party certifier, such as Clean Food Certified, to use the R.A.W. label on their products.


Certified C.L.E.A.N. stands for Conscious, Live, Ethical, Active and Nourishing. The only apparent difference between R.A.W. and C.L.E.A.N. is that C.L.E.A.N. doesn't specify 212 degrees F as the upper limit of production temperature, but it still requires minimally-processed ingredients. Come to think of it, I've only ever seen the two labels used together. Examples of food companies using the C.L.E.A.N. and R.A.W. labels include GoMacro, Soul Sprout, Rhythm Superfoods, Hail Merry and Health-Ade Kombucha.

Certified Transitional

This is a new label that identifies foods in the process of becoming fully organic. It was created to help meet the booming demand for organic products by incentivizing farmers to convert to organic farming methods – a process that takes three years and is often too costly to make sense. Hence why currently only 1 percent of all U.S. farmland is certified organic, despite the fact that organic sales increased 8.4 percent between 2015 and 2016 while food sales overall only grew 0.6 percent.

Growers can quality for certified transitional status if they meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture's organic standards – except for the requirement for the land to be free from prohibited materials for three full years. Instead, transitional farms only need to have been free from such materials – think synthetic pesticides and fertilizers – for one year. After two additional years as certified transitional – during which products can continue to sell at conventional prices – and passing inspections and audits, farms can then be certified organic.

What does this mean for your grocery shopping? That packaged food products with the certified transitional label contain at least 51 percent transitional ingredients by weight. And if an ingredient, like wheat, is declared as transitional on the package, 100 percent of that ingredient must be transitional.

So far, the only packaged food company selling certified transitional products is Kashi, which is owned by Kellogg's. It has helped to spearhead the movement and features certified transitional ingredients in its Dark Cocoa Karma cereal (wheat) and Chewy Nut Butter Bars (almonds, dates and sorghum). These products will continue to be certified transitional as long as Kashi continues to make them. The hope is that the market for transitional products will grow, encouraging more farmers to make the leap from conventional to organic farming and expand the amount of land that is pesticide-free in this country.

While Kashi is the first to support the program, QAI (Quality Assurance International), the third party certifying agency that Kashi works with, has fielded numerous inquiries from interested companies across various industries, from food to fashion to personal care brands. Look out for many more certified transitional products on store shelves for years to come.

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