Although the USDA creates and maintains the standards for organic foods, it doesn’t actually do the certification itself. That task falls to about 80 private and government organizations worldwide, themselves certified under the USDA’s National Organic Program, who inspect products and farms and verify that they meet USDA Organic standards. These inspections happen yearly and are noted for being fairly stringent.
The USDA provides some guidelines on what food producers can expect when undergoing an inspection from one of these certification authorities:
- Extensive auditing of documentation related to planting techniques and fertilizer/pesticide use. For this reason, it’s extremely important for manufacturers and producers to keep detailed records on these points. An ERP for food manufacturing system offers an effective and transparent way to preserve proper documentation.
- Inspection of fields, farming areas, storage and production facilities to determine compliance with USDA Organic standards.
- Testing of samples for pesticide residue to ensure that there has been no incidental contact with pesticides
- An exit interview in which the request for certification is either approved or denied, and any questions are answered.
Food manufacturers should note that inspectors are independent third parties who are not allowed to provide any advice on which specific strategies to use to meet regulations. They can explain the regulations in detail, but providing advice is outside their purview.
For those in the food and beverage manufacturing industry seeking to integrate organic products into their supply chains, many of these certifying organizations offer extensive lists of farms and producers that they’ve certified. These lists, such as the CCOF Directory, are a great place to start for companies interested in organic sourcing who aren’t ready to make the leap to full-blown organic.