What do you as a consumer think of when you hear the term “food grade” or “food safe” in relation to a product? It may conjure up images of being able to keep this ingredient in your kitchen and use it in any recipe as you please.
It may even lead you to believe that some governing body regulates this particular product that you are looking to buy, and certifies it as safe for use in food.
When it’s used in the labeling of essential oils, you may think that this oil must be safe to ingest, and since there are no instructions on what is a safe limit of ingestion, you may assume that there is no toxic limit.
If you thought any of those things, you are wrong.
In this article, I will attempt to clear up some of the misconceptions surrounding this term as it is used in the essential oil industry. My goal is to help families like yours make educated decisions about the products that you buy, and keep your family safe.
What “Food Grade” Essential Oils DOES NOT Mean
A lot of over-the-top statements have been made by essential oils salespeople and/or individual companies. These statements many times lead consumers to believe things about the company’s oils that are not true. Even worse are statements made by companies or sales reps that are down right false.
Statements like “certified by the FDA” or “certified food grade” sound fancy, but what do they mean? Firstly, I want to point out in a quick list the things that “food grade” does NOT mean.
The Term “Food Grade”…
- DOES NOT mean that a particular brand of oils are tested as safe for everyday food use
- DOES NOT mean that there are established guidelines for quality or quantity of use in foods
- DOES NOT mean that essential oils are regulated by any governing body or organization
- DOES NOT mean that a particular brand of essential oils is certified or approved as safe by the FDA
Then we are left with the question, what does the term “Food Grade” actually mean? Let’s find out…
What Does the Term “Food Grade” Actually Mean?
Firstly, it’s important to understand that there is no official grading system for essential oils in the industry. All terms such as “food grade”, “therapeutic grade”, “grade A”, etc., are inherently meaningless.
Read: Name Games from Learning About EOs
The FDA does not regulate “food grade” essential oils, neither does it require testing or set quality standards.
Because there is no grading standard here in the U.S., many companies categorize their essential oils as a fragrance or food grade to get FDA approval. By getting fragrance/food grade approval and not drug approval, essential oils are available to everyone with no restrictions. (source)
The other term you may encounter with essential oils labeled “food grade” is that of “generally recognized as safe by the FDA” or “GRAS”. This term is used by the FDA, but it does not mean what many people think that it means.
This is what it means:
Essential oils, oleoresins (solvent-free), and natural extractives (including distillates) that are generally recognized as safe for their intended use – FDA.gov
GRAS is a list of types of essential oils and extractives that are generally recognized across the board as being safe for use as a food additive.
However, the internal use of essential oils for therapeutic or culinary applications requires more care than a lot of people new to essential oils realize. Essential oils are highly concentrated, and many associated risks exist when taking essential oils internally without being properly educated or without being under the care of a properly trained practitioner. (source)
“GRAS” and “Food Grade” labels do not give any meaning behind whether or not a particular essential oils is safe for general household use or, if so, in what quantity.
Essential oil companies can make wild claims about the safety of their essential oils without any scientific basis, testing, or accountability, so long as they include the statement “these statements have not been approved by the FDA”.
Ingesting Essential Oils
Armed with the information that no essential oil is regulated, nor do they undergo required testing for safety of internal use, we must be especially careful in choosing how to use essential oils in our home and on our bodies.
Remember, there is no regulation of safe amounts of essential oil use in any form or application. Additionally, using essential oils for flavoring in food is not equivalent to baking flavors. For instance, using 1/8 of a teaspoon of orange essential oil to replace 1 Tbsp of orange extract, and only in a recipe that contains sufficient fats (coconut oil, butter, olive oil, etc.) to dilute the essential oil.
Aromatherapist Lea Harris, has this to say about ingesting essential oils:
Although modern multi-level marketing companies are casual about the internal use of essential oils, it is wise to carefully consider all the factors involved before using essential oils internally. There are few instances when ingestion of essential oils is preferred over other methods. Seeking guidance from a certified aromatherapist is recommended. (source)
Long-Term Effects of Improper Ingestion of Essential Oils Include:
- Internal Irritation and Burns
- Scarring and Ulcers
- Liver and/or Kidney Damage
- Potential for Cancer
Lea has more information on ingesting essential oils here.
You can also find information about the internal use of essential oils at Aroma Web here.
We must remember that just because essential oils come from a natural source, does not mean that they can be used without side effects or risks.
As for companies that use the term “food grade” for their essential oils, I will let you be the judge. However, I will say that if a company is using this term to describe their products, yet have very little information available for their customers as to what this term actually means, I would proceed with caution. In my opinion, this represents an issue of ethics within the essential oil industry. I prefer to buy from companies who are open and honest about their terms and practices.
~ Where to Buy Essential Oils ~
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