We believe that the best ingredients belong on your plate. That’s why we’ve banned hydrogenated fats, high-fructose corn syrup, sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose and saccharin — along with more than 260 colors, preservatives, flavors and other ingredients from all of the food we sell in our stores. Seriously — from Berry Chantilly Cake opens in a new tab in our bakery to the foods in our bulk bins opens in a new tab, we want you to feel confident about what goes in your cart. If it doesn’t meet our standards, we won’t sell it.
Higher Food Ingredient Standards
From the first day we swung open our doors in September 1980, steadfast and selective have underpinned the attitude behind the standards of the products we sell — and love. When we review ingredients, we consider the interconnected effects of the way that food is processed and regulated by authorities in the U.S., EU, Canada and beyond. All of this happens before hitting our shelves and ultimately your plate.
The food industry evolves and changes rapidly, and we strive to respond by following emerging research and our customers’ expectations. Over the years, we’ve achieved some major milestones in what we restrict, including banning added MSG in 1992, hydrogenated oils in 2003 and high-fructose corn syrup in 2011.
Below are a few commonly used additives you won’t find in our stores.
Until recently, ingredients like margarine and shortening-baked goods (like pastries, pies, cookies and snack foods) often contained partially hydrogenated oils. These oils are chemically altered additives designed to improve texture and prolong shelf life — primarily in conventional processed foods. Studies have shown that the trans fats in partially hydrogenated oils raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, decrease HDL (good) cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease. In 2015 the FDA released its final determination that partially hydrogenated oils are not “generally recognized as safe”. As of January 1, 2020, manufacturers cannot add PHOs to foods. That’s been our stance for more than 15 years.
The Food and Drug Administration breaks color additives into two distinct categories. Exempt colors — most of which we permit — include pigments from sources such as vegetables, minerals and animals. Think dehydrated beets and grape skin extract.
The other category, certified color additives, are synthetic colors like FD&C Yellow No. 6 — which we do not permit — are the additives widely used for intense, uniform color and flexibility in making a variety of hues. These synthetics must undergo batch certification, whereby FDA chemists test composition to ensure they do not contain impurities at levels that post a health concern. Color additives subject to certification are typically made from raw materials obtained from petroleum.
Shelf life — that’s the primary reason preservatives are added to foods. Canning, heating, pasteurizing, drying and pickling are all ways to preserve food. We also allow certain added preservatives like citric acid and cultured dextrose. Preservatives undergo consideration on a case-by-case basis, weighing the benefits and drawbacks.
For example, we allow sulfites in wines, where they may be present naturally in the grapes, or are added to ensure longevity in the bottle. We do not allow sulfites on dried fruits, where they're often used to prevent browning.
We have a long history of working to ban sweeteners from food we sell in our stores. Aspartame, for one. When aspartame was approved by the FDA for food, we looked at technical information and considered our customers’ expectations. Based on that research, we added aspartame to our list of unacceptable ingredients for food, and here are some other sweeteners we ban:
Cyclamates (not available at other grocery retailers in the U.S. since it is prohibited in U.S. by FDA)
A staple baking item that shouldn’t be overlooked, many all-purpose white flours are bleached with benzoyl peroxide or bromated with the addition of potassium bromate. These agents chemically age and strengthen gluten, and increase the rise and elasticity of dough. We don’t think it’s necessary, just a shortcut. Humans have been baking great things with unbromated flour for millennia. While a definitive finding on health risks is yet to be reached, bromate is currently banned in the EU and Canada, among other places.
Ingredients We Don’t Allow in Our Food
The list of no-gos. It can be a difficult process, and the answers are not always easy, but we know our food ingredient standards are part of how we’ve changed the way food is grown, raised, processed and experienced around the world.
Below are many of the ingredients we've banned.
acetylated esters of mono- and diglycerides
aluminum ammonium sulfate
aluminum potassium sulfate
aluminum starch octenylsuccinate
Bacillus coagulans Unique IS-2
Bacillus coagulans ProDURA UABc-20
BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole)
BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)
black soldier fly
brominated vegetable oil
caffeine (extended release)
calcium disodium EDTA
Citrus Red No. 2
dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate (DSS)
disodium calcium EDTA
disodium dihydrogen EDTA
disodium iron EDTA
ethyl acrylate (synthetic)
ethyl vanillin (synthetic)
eugenyl methyl ether (synthetic)
FD&C Blue No. 1
FD&C Blue No. 2
FD&C Green No. 3
FD&C Red No. 3
FD&C Red No. 40
FD&C Yellow No. 5
FD&C Yellow No. 6
gamma aminobutyric acid
Grapefruit seed extract
Hawaiian black salt
He shou wu
hexa-, hepta- and octa-esters of sucrose
highly branched cyclic dextrin
high-fructose corn syrup/HFCS
lactic acid esters of monoglycerides
lactylated esters of mono- and diglycerides
mechanically separated meat
microparticularized whey protein derived fat substitute
Nature identical flavors
natamycin (okay in cheese-rind wax)
partially hydrogenated oils
potassium bisulfite (okay in wine, mead, cider)
potassium metabisulfite (okay in wine, mead, cider)
propane-1,2-Diol esters of fatty acids
propylene glycol esters of fatty acids
propylene glycol mono- and diesters of fats and fatty acids
saccharin sodium salt
salatrim (short and long chain acyl triglyceride molecule)
smoke flavor (synthetic)
sodium acid sulfate
sodium aluminum phosphate
sodium aluminum sulfate
sodium bisulfite (okay in wine, mead, cider)
sodium lauryl sulfate
sodium metabisulfite (okay in wine, mead, cider)
sodium nitrate/nitrite (synthetic)
sodium stearoyl lactylate
sodium sulfite (okay in wine, mead, cider)
sucrose acetate isobutyrate
sulfites (okay in wine, mead, cider)
sulfur dioxide (okay in wine, mead, cider)
TBHQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone)
Note to product suppliers: This list is intended for our shoppers. It’s not for use in formulating products as it doesn’t include all Whole Foods Market requirements and ingredient restrictions. Creating a product with no unacceptable ingredients does not guarantee that we will sell it.