Many processors and handlers are confused about when they can begin producing, selling, and marketing products as organic. Is it when you’ve bought organic ingredients and made a product with them? Definitely not. Is it after you’ve had an organic inspection? Nope. Is it after a certifier has approved a product formulation for you? No again.
You can start the process of producing organic products by finding organic suppliers & purchasing the necessary ingredients, and you may even begin the production process prior to be becoming certified, but don’t begin selling or marketing your products as “organic” until you become certified. Doing so does damage to those farms and businesses who have taken the appropriate steps to verify their compliance with the organic laws.
The USDA levels steep civil penalties–up to $18, 951 per violation–against businesses who sell or market goods without first seeking organic certification. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the organic standards and to get certified before selling or marketing anything as organic by taking the steps listed below. Of course, it’s always a good first step to familiarize yourself with the organic standards, found here: https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=3f34f4c22f9aa8e6d9864cc2683cea02&tpl=/ecfrbrowse/Title07/7cfr205_main_02.tpl
1. Apply for Certification
Put in your application with a USDA accredited certifying agency like OneCert. The process of applying for certification is outlined in the organic standards, so is very similar from agency to agency. “Applying” includes submitting your Organic System Plan, all the important attachments like maps, flow charts, organic product information, and lists of ingredients, suppliers, pest control products, cleaners/sanitizers, and other inputs you may use in your handling facility. Applying also means that you’ve paid the fees associated with certification.
2. Get Inspected
Once your Organic System Plan is approved, OneCert will have an inspector contact you to set up your on-site inspection. Inspectors are there to verify what you’ve written in your Organic System Plan, tour your facility, and to determine if your methods of production and your recordkeeping system show that you can comply with the organic regulations. Inspectors are not however, “certifiers.” They do not “certify” your process, facility, or products.
3. Go Through A Certification Review
Following your inspection, your inspector will write a report that they send to OneCert. A member of OneCert’s review staff will read the report prepared by the inspector and contact you about the inspector’s findings. You may be asked to submit additional documentation or alter aspects of your plans at this stage. It’s important that you cooperate with the reviewer and provide the necessary items in a timely manner to help facilitate the completion of this step in the certification process. How quickly you can get certified depends upon how complete your information is.
4. Get Approval for Key Items
During the Certification Review process and even outside of the annual Certification Review process OneCert must approve key things like:
* Changes to your Organic System Plan
* Organic Product Profiles (your product ‘recipes’)
* New equipment or processes at your facility
* Product label designs
*Inputs like pest control materials, cleaners, sanitizers, boiler additives, and processing aids.
*New suppliers of ingredients
It’s important to make these changes with the support and approval of your organic certifying agency.
5. Get Your Products Added to Your Organic Certificate
Once a review of your process and documents is complete, and your reviewer determines your processes and products comply with the organic standards, OneCert will issue you an organic certificate. Your certificate will include the names of all your organic compliant products. Once a certificate is issued, your business’s name, information, and a list of your certified products will be publicly visible on the USDA’s Organic Integrity Database–a searchable list of all USDA National Organic Program certified entities worldwide! Congratulations! You may now sell & market your certified products as organic!
6. Continue Your Certification by Reapplying & Getting Inspected Yearly
Once certified, your organic certificate does not expire, but is valid until it’s surrendered, suspended, or revoked. However, it’s up to you to ensure you keep your certification in good standing by reapplying each year by the ‘anniversary date’ listed on your organic certificate and informing your certifying agency of any changes to your business. You will also be inspected each year following the submission of your annual certification renewal paperwork. Annually, your business will also go through the certification review process to verify your continuing compliance with the organic standards.