food certifications

Food Certifications Explained: Gluten-Free, Keto, and More

February 23, 2023 - Emily Newton

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Food certifications are vital for ensuring that people understand what’s in the food they eat and where it comes from. From religious diets to ethical concerns, there are food certifications for all kinds of purposes. For anyone who has ever wondered what the special symbols on food packaging are, this guide is for you. 

Lifestyle Food Certifications

Some of the most common food certifications found on labels today are for lifestyle-specific diets. This includes religious diets as well as certain fitness diets. Here are the most common lifestyle food certifications, what they mean, and the main official certifications to look out for. 


The kosher diet is used primarily by people of the Jewish faith with origins dating back hundreds of years. It follows dietary guidelines laid out in the Bible as well as the Oral Torah. Food that is certified kosher cannot contain or have contact with any of the following: pork, shellfish, birds of prey, rodents, insects, rabbits, animals that were not slaughtered properly, or dairy and meat together. 

There are many official organizations that certify food as Kosher. The most commonly found on food labels are the Orthodox Union, Organized Kashrus Laboratories, and KOF-K Kosher Supervision, all of which also have dairy-specific certifications. 


The Halal diet is used by the Islamic faith and is based on religious lifestyle guidelines. Muslims who follow the Halal diet can eat most foods except for a few specific items: alcohol or intoxicating beverages, carnivorous animals, birds of prey, blood, pork, animals that were dead prior to being slaughtered, animals that were slaughtered improperly (without the Halal method), or any food contaminated with any of the above. 

There are a few main organizations that grant Halal food certifications. These organizations include Halal Italia, the National Independent Halal Trust, the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, and the Islamic Society of the Washington Area. 

Keto and Paleo

Keto and Paleo are both specialized diets that have risen to popularity over recent years, particularly in fitness communities. The paleo diet is based on ideology while the keto diet is based on the science of the body’s metabolism. However, both diets share a lot of core qualities. 

People following the paleo diet only eat foods that were available to prehistoric humans living in the Paleolithic era. This is why it is sometimes called the “caveman” diet. This diet includes only meat, fish, eggs, seeds, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, plus certain healthy fats and oils. Basically, foods that require farming or heavy processing to obtain, are not paleo-friendly, such as sugars, grains, or dairy. The main food certification for paleo-friendly foods is “Certified Paleo” by the Paleo Foundation. 

The keto diet is one of the fastest growing diets today. It aims to reduce the body’s dependence on carbs through a metabolic process known as ketosis. In ketosis, the body gets energy from fats rather than carbs. This diet is more about controlling one’s macronutrient consumption, although there are certain foods that are not keto-friendly, such as grains and added sugars. The main food certification for keto-friendly food is “Keto Certified” by the Paleo Foundation. 

Vegan and Vegetarian

Vegan and vegetarian diets are often confused due to their similarities, although they are different from one another. The main difference is that a vegetarian can eat eggs and dairy while a vegan cannot. The vegan diet cuts out all animal products, relying solely on plant-based food. There are also variants of the standard vegetarian diet that include some animal products. For example, the pescatarian diet includes fish and seafood. 

The main food certifications for these two diets are “Vegan Certified” by the non-profit organization Vegan Action and “Certified Plant Based” by the Plant Based Foods Association. 

Allergen Food Certifications

Many food certifications are made for people with food allergies who physically cannot consume certain foods. These are arguably the most important food certifications to be aware of since they exist to protect people from suffering potentially life threatening allergic reactions. 

Certified Gluten-Free

Gluten-free food does not contain any foods with gluten, such as wheat, barley, and rye. People who have a gluten-free diet can have varying degrees of gluten intolerance, but some people with confirmed coeliac disease may be at risk of life-threatening illness if they consume anything that has come into contact with gluten. 

Not all foods that are technically free of gluten are certified gluten free, such as raw fruits, vegetables, or meats. If a food comes into contact with any gluten during production or is made in a facility that also processes gluten, it may not be truly gluten free. The main food certification for gluten free food is “Certified Gluten-Free” by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization. 


Peanut allergies can be some of the most severe in the world, so it’s important to keep an eye out for confirmed peanut-free food when shopping for someone with nut allergies. Unfortunately, there are no official peanut or nut-free certifications with widespread use. 

However, the FDA requires by law that food products include the top eight allergens on their labels, including peanuts. So, if peanuts are present in a food item, it is required to be listed on the label. Additionally, products marked “school safe” are free of peanuts as well as those that are marked as made in a “peanut-free facility”. 

Dairy-free vs Lactose-Free

At least 30 million Americans are estimated to be lactose intolerant, meaning that they cannot consume dairy products containing the lactose enzyme. Some people also have milk allergies, which can cause illness specifically from consuming milk. Lactose intolerance is a digestive disorder whereas a milk allergy is an immune system disorder. Products can be lactose-free without being dairy or milk free since the lactose enzyme can be removed from regular milk and dairy. 

Similar to peanut-free food, there is no single unified organization that certifies food as lactose or dairy-free. However, businesses have to include dairy and milk on their labels since these products are common allergens. Dairy-free food is safe for lactose intolerant people but lactose-free food is not always safe for dairy or milk allergy sufferers. Food that is completely free of these allergens will usually be marked as such by the manufacturer. 

Production Food Certifications

Additional food certifications exist for certain food production standards, such as ethical or health standards. There are few main certifications in this category. 

USDA Organic

USDA Organic is one of the most commonly found food certifications in grocery stores today. Gaining the USDA Organic certification requires a thorough review and inspection process to verify that the manufacturer or farmer’s food products were no grown with any prohibited substances. As a result, USDA Organic foods can be marginally healthier than non-organic foods. 

The FDA has detailed guidelines on soil quality and farming methods for plants as well as living condition regulations for animals. For example, USDA Organic beef is certified to come from a cow that was allowed to graze in a pasture and was fed only organic feed with no antibiotics or hormones. 

Rainforest Alliance

Rainforest Alliance is unique among food certifications in that it isn’t necessarily related to food ingredients. Rather, the Rainforest Alliance certification verifies that a food product was manufactured using sustainable practices that benefit the environment and farmers in countries all over the world. 

The Rainforest Alliance is focused more on social and environmental causes than food ingredients or diets. Shoppers can rest assured that when they buy Rainforest Alliance Certified food, they are supporting local farmers all over the world as well as businesses that use transparent and sustainable practices throughout their supply chain. 

Animal Welfare Approved

The Animal Welfare Approved food certification that verifies that animal products are coming from farms using humane farming practices. For instance, animals are required to be raised outdoors on free range or pasture for their entire lives. There are requirements on feeding, living conditions, and slaughter, all intended to promote humane and sustainable farming. 

Fair Trade Certified

Fair Trade Certified is one of the most common food certifications today. This food certification focuses on fair and sustainable business practices throughout the food supply chain. Foods that are Fair Trade Certified come from businesses that are guaranteed to be paying fair, livable wages and sourcing from sustainable and ethical suppliers all over the world. This certification also helps to fight poverty, enrich communities, and protect the environment. 

Understanding What You Eat

For many people, food certifications make grocery shopping much easier and allow shoppers to choose to support businesses with sustainable, healthy practices. Understanding what all of the most common food certifications are allows shoppers to be more informed when buying their groceries. Food certifications can even save lives for certain people and help improve lives for millions of people working in food supply chains.

Revolutionized is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn more here.


Emily Newton

Emily Newton is a technology and industrial journalist and the Editor in Chief of Revolutionized. She enjoys reading and writing about how technology is changing the world around us.

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