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Want to Know What's in Your Food? Check This Massive New Grocery Database

It may not be pretty

Consumers get a new tool in the grocery aisle. Photo: Getty Images

A Washington, D.C. nonprofit is making it easy for consumers to look up their favorite grocery item and immediately see a health score, tipping them off to concerns about nutrition, ingredients and processing.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has launched "Food Scores: Rate Your Plate," a website and database of over 80,000 products that is geared toward educating buyers about the quality of their food. In addition to fighting for transparency in the food industry, the nonprofit is arming shoppers with a tool to make healthy choices as they browse the endless aisles of sugary cereal and packaged snacks.

The website and upcoming free mobile app rate food on a scale of one to 10, green to red, best to worst. Each score includes three factors: nutrition values such as those found on a product’s packaging, ingredient concerns such as pesticides and contaminants, and the amount of processing an item undergoes before it hits shelves. A box of Cheerios, for example, rates a four—with low levels of nutrition and ingredient concern, but moderate levels of processing concern. You can see how it stacks up against other cereals too.

In a post on EWG's website, president and co-founder Ken Cook said the site helps shoppers base decisions on facts, not buzzwords. “Shoppers who care about the quality of food and how it was produced might look for labels like ‘natural’ and ‘whole grain,’ ‘organic’ or ‘non-GMO certified,’ even as they wonder which claims mean something and which are marketing hype.”

Bloomberg Businessweek noted there are similar apps and databases, such as Fooducate and one from Whole Foods, but the clarity and stringency of EWG's rating system sets a new bar.

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