Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) Law
Consumer caution about the food we eat has become common because of recent food recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks. Concerned consumers now have the opportunity to purchase foods from other countries where they feel there are better safety oversights. The law was initially proposed by U.S. farmers and ranchers who thought people would prefer to buy meat produced in the United States.
COOL is a federal regulation that requires retailers to clearly label the country where certain foods come from. Those foods include beef, veal, lamb, pork, goat, and chicken; farm-raised fish and shellfish; wild fish and shellfish; peanuts; ginseng; pecans; macadamia nuts; and perishable agricultural commodities (this term refers to fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables).
In some small towns you may not see a COOL label on the fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables. The label is only required at grocery stores, or meat markets, for these perishable agricultural commodities, if that business purchases more than $230,000 of them during a calendar year.
Food service establishments are also exempt. You wouldn't expect to see the COOL labels in lunchrooms, delis, food stands, or restaurants. This is because processed and cooked foods are also exempt. A food can be called a processed food if it is combined with only one other ingredient.
You may also be surprised that the COOL label isn't always a sticker or printed label. The law provides for the "label" to be simply a sign or placard. In fact, the USDA encourages retailers to supplement stickers with point-of-purchase placards and other signage as a way to more clearly indicate information to consumers.
More information about COOL can be found on the USDA website
Reviewed 2011 by Suzanne Driessen