Food quality is important to ensure a product is safe and uncontaminated, and also that it’s enjoyable to consume. Almost without exception, quality food just tastes better. In some cases, it also lasts longer, so you are less likely to have to throw away uneaten food. And, of course, when cooking or baking, better quality ingredients will result in a better quality meal.

So how do you determine the quality of the food you’re buying? Here are some factors to consider:

  1. What’s in it? Read the label. If you don’t recognize many of the ingredients, there’s a good chance the item is filled with additives, preservatives, and dyes. Quality food contains real ingredients like sugar, milk, wheat flour, peanuts, and oats. Don’t be fooled by ingredients like “natural flavors,” as these are typically chemical additives.
  1. Skip overly processed food. Similar to number one above, foods that contain real ingredients are typically less processed. This food usually taste better, and it also contains many naturally occurring vitamins and nutrients, making the food better for you. Processed food, again, contains lots of additives and preservatives, which have little or no nutritional value and may even be harmful.
  1. Go organic. Many people think the word organic is overused and misunderstood, or a tool retailers use to charge more for an item. But the truth is organic means the item was grown without pesticides or other chemicals, is not genetically modified, and contains no artificial substances. Organic food, in most cases, is real, high-quality food.
  1. Look for local and seasonal. While there’s no guarantee locally sourced food is the highest quality, in many cases it is better than food that has been shipped in from other places. This is particularly true with produce. Chances are a tomato that’s been grown on a local farm is going to taste better than one that’s been in transit for a week or so. Seasonal foods also tend to be higher quality and better tasting. There might be blueberries in the store during the dead of winter, but they don’t taste nearly as good as those you’ll find in June.
  1. Consider bulk. When it comes to grains, cereals, coffee, teas, dried beans, nuts, and other bulk items, in many cases the food in the bulk stores is from the same source as the packaged food. What’s more, most bulk stores constantly rotate the product in the bins, and regularly add new product, keeping the food fresher than food sitting in packages for long periods of time.
  1. High prices do not equal high quality. Similarly, low prices don’t indicate low quality. It varies greatly depending on the food, the time of year, where you are shopping, and a whole host of other variables. Truth is, a smart consumer who does their homework can typically find value and quality when shopping for food.