According to the International Food Information Council (IFIC), in 2016, 38 percent of consumers named "chemicals" as their top food safety concern, up from 9 percent just five years earlier. This suggests that large numbers of ordinary Americans no longer trust the assurances of scientific experts or government agencies about the safety of food additives — much less corporations — not to put weird things into their bodies. And so they’re on a tear to banish strange and unfamiliar-sounding ingredients from their lives, the way Marie Kondo might purge a cluttered apartment.

For now, plenty of food companies are happy to oblige them. It’s no secret why: There’s money in it. While sales of "conventional" processed foods have stagnated or fallen in recent years, sales of foods and beverages that boast no artificial ingredients or that claim to be “all natural” continue to rise, despite an often higher sticker price. This growth has been especially strong for foods that combine a clean label with promises of environmental sustainability.

But a question remains: What, exactly, counts as “clean”? Retailers and chain restaurants with clean label programs, such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Kroger, and Panera, all have slightly different lists of prohibited ingredients. For instance, Whole Foods forbids food containing the artificial sweetener sucralose and synthetic vanillin from being sold in its stores; Trader Joe’s allows both, but bans oxystearin, a waxy preservative that Whole Foods currently permits. Panera’s original “no-no list” of forbidden ingredients included ascorbic acid (aka vitamin C), which it later removed after criticism for promoting pseudoscience.

Read the full article about deception over labels for "clean" foods by Nadia Berenstein at The New Food Economy.