Understanding Nonretail Labeling Under SOE

The Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) rulemaking includes new requirements for nonretail containers used to ship or store certified organic agricultural products. In response to this change, OneCert has updated forms and procedures to collect information that will comply with the new requirements. This guidance is for OneCert clients, to aid with completing forms and providing information to meet the regulations.

What do the regulations say about nonretail labeling?

According to the Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) preamble, “Nonretail containers used to ship or store organic products must be labeled with information that links the container to audit trail documentation (§ 205.307(a)(2)). Such documentation must be sufficient to determine the source, transfer of ownership, and transportation of the product (see definition of audit trail in § 205.2) and must identify the last certified operation that handled the product (§ 205.307(b)). Listing the last certified organic operation provides a point of contact to verify the organic status of a product and supports operations’ traceability, recordkeeping, and fraud prevention requirements (§§ 205.103(b)(2)–(3) and 205.201(a)(3)). It also supports onsite inspections and supply chain traceability audits conducted by certifying agents (§§ 205.403(d)(5) and 205.501(a)(21)) by ensuring good recordkeeping of the critical transfers between certified operations.” 

The organic regulations define a label as, “A display of written, printed, or graphic material on the immediate container of an agricultural product or any such material affixed to any agricultural product or affixed to a bulk container containing an agricultural product…”. 

What does this mean for OneCert certified operations or new applicants?

All certified operations must answer the nonretail labeling questions in their OneCert Organic System Plan (OSP). Nonretail containers used by organic operations must identify the product as organic and include a lot number (shipping identification or other unique identifier) that links to audit trail documents.

This means that farms must affix a label to bulk products stored on the farm, and affix a label to bulk products prior to shipment. The label must include the word “organic” and a unique identifier (like a lot number) that links back to your farm. The identifier must be included on documents like settlement sheets and bills of lading. You must establish a method of labeling bulk farm products in storage and prior to shipping to comply with the new regulations.

For handling operations, the audit trail record must link back to the last physical certified handling site, not just the certified seller. Therefore, it is important to remind your organic suppliers of the requirements regarding labeling organic products prior to shipment under the new Strengthening Organic Enforcement regulations.

Will OneCert also Require Photos/Evidence/Examples of my labels?

For most situations it is adequate to complete the OSP with a thorough description of your plans to meet the rule. Make sure the OSP response is clear and includes how each element will be included, and how the information will be affixed to the container.

In some cases, you might find it helpful to include a photo or other visual example to demonstrate your intentions. Please submit them as you see fit.

OneCert will only require a photo, template, or label artwork to be submitted for nonretail labels that contain more than just the unique identifier and organic designation. For example, if you apply tote labels that include your name and address, an ingredients statement, or “Certified organic by OneCert” statement, then we will ask you to submit a copy for approval. OneCert will review and if approved, you will receive a stamped approved copy back for your records.

Note that the regulations do not limit additional information that may be present on nonretail labels. OneCert will, therefore, allow other information as long as it is true and not misleading. 

Guidance for Completing the New OneCert OSP Questions:

All OneCert OSP’s include the following questions, regardless of scope. The guidance below will help you determine how to respond:

OSP QUESTION: Describe how all Nonretail* packages and containers used to store or ship organic product meet the following requirements:

Organic contents are clearly and immediately identified as “organic” on the label by using a short statement, an abbreviation, an acronym, or a USDA organic seal: (e.g. labels, seals with organic designation, temporary signs, etc.)

Guidance: Describe how you affix “organic” identification to any nonretail containers used in your organic production for storage and transport. 

For example:

  • My grain bins are permanently marked as dedicated organic with paint. For outgoing truckloads, I will affix a seal or tag to the truck where I will write “organic.”
  • We apply tote labels to all bulk products that identify both the organic material and the lot number.
  • Incoming ingredients are in cartons or barrels that have labels applied by our suppliers that identify each as organic.
  • If an incoming product or ingredient is lacking organic identification, we write this on the label upon receipt and communicate with our suppliers about the need for compliant labeling.

OSP QUESTION: Link the container to audit trail documentation using lot numbers or another unique identifier:

Guidance: Clearly describe how unique identifiers (like lot numbers or container numbers) will be affixed to all containers for storage and transport. Describe how that number links to audit trail documentation. 

For example:

  • My grain bins are permanently numbered (1-5) with paint. These bin numbers are used in my activity records to document where grain from each field is stored. The bin numbers also link to my lot numbers, which are written on the blank tag and affixed to the truck prior to shipping.
  • We apply tote labels to all bulk products that identify both the organic material and the lot number. The lot number is used on BOL’s, invoices, and packaging lists.
  • Incoming ingredients are in cartons or barrels with labels that identify it as organic, and the lot number on this label also links to the incoming invoice and BOL from our suppliers.
  • If incoming cardboard boxes of products or ingredients are missing the lot or other unique identifier, we write this on the label at the time of receipt with a permanent marker. We then communicate with our suppliers about the need for compliant labeling.

OneCert Plans for Nonretail Labels Throughout the 2024 Cycle:

Renewal/New Application:

  • You need to tell us in your OSP what you are doing or plan to do to comply. OneCert will either approve this plan, or ask for more information (during below review steps).
  • Submit photos or artwork for any labels you plan to use that include more than just the organic designation and unique identifier.
  • Please be aware that OneCert cannot give you advice or tell you what to do. We can provide examples (such as in this guidance) and technical assistance, but we cannot consult.

Initial Completeness & Compliance Review:

  • If the new questions in the OSP have not been answered, OneCert will provide you with this guidance and ask you to complete them.
  • Read your OSP Approval Letter carefully prior to inspection. OneCert may ask you to have updates available at inspection for the inspector to collect.


  • The inspector will verify the OSP responses and collect an updated OSP on site if plans have changed, or additional detail is needed.
  • The inspector will collect examples (artwork, photos, templates) when a label contains more than just the unique identifier and organic designation so OneCert can review and approve.

Certification Decision:

  • OneCert will review the inspection report and OSP to make sure your plans are compliant.
  • For any labels that contain more than just the unique ID and organic designation, we will stamp the label as approved, and provide you with a copy for your records.
  • If the OSP and/or proposed label is inadequate, OneCert may issue:
    • A Minor Issue to obtain a correction, or to collect additional information if the OSP is unclear or incomplete about how the requirements are being met. 
    • A Notice of Noncompliance when warranted. For example, if a client has been asked multiple times to provide updates about how they are complying with this new rule, updates were not available at inspection, and the new OSP questions are still incomplete at the time of the final review. Another example is when it is observed at inspection that storage and shipping containers are lacking required information. You will then have 30 days to submit your corrective action.

Other Frequently Asked Questions:

Is a semi-truck a container?

  • Answer: Yes, based on the preamble. The NOP specifically calls out trucks in their examples.

Does using a numbered seal that links to a BOL with Organic designation meet the requirements?

  • Answer: If the uniquely numbered seal also includes organic designation (e.g. the word “organic”, abbreviation, use of the seal, etc.) it would meet the requirements.
  • If the seal only includes a number and no organic designation, it does not meet the requirements.
  • Remember the seal number must also be unique and must link to the audit trail documents (such as BOL’s and invoices).

Do farmers have to “label” their trucks when moving grain from their own field to their own bin?

  • Answer: This is not mandatory. Based on the preamble, the intent is primarily to identify organic materials at the time when it is transferred from one entity to another.

Do farmers have to “label” their trucks when hauling grain to an elevator?

  • Answer: Yes. Per the preamble, trucks are considered containers. And per the preamble the intent is to identify organic products at the time of transfer between entities to avoid fraud and mistakes.

What about a “Work in Progress” (WIP) product in a manufacturing facility?

  • Answer: This is not explicitly required as this section of the regs is focused on containers used to ship and store. WIP products are typically not “stored” for a long period of time. An example may be a product that is placed in a container for movement within a facility. 
  • HOWEVER, handling facilities must have controls in place to maintain organic integrity of the product. This may mean using organic signage on WIP products or color-coded bins/totes to prevent mistakes that could result in contamination and commingling. These risks should be addressed in the Organic Control Points (OCP’s) for handling operations.
  • Additionally, WIP products that are transported to another facility/entity for further processing must comply with the nonretail labeling requirements.

What does “last certified operation that handled the product” mean?

  • Answer: Since the “last certified handler” may either be a physical handler or owner, there may be multiple audit trails and multiple entities that need to be identified. 
  • The audit trail records must link back to the entity that labeled the nonretail container but may also need to link to the owner (e.g. a broker) to satisfy both the audit trail for the product’s ownership and the audit trail for the product’s physical movement. 

According to the DOT, we cannot easily affix a temporary sign to my truck, how can I meet the rule?

  • Answer: It is true that DOT has very tight regulations about what can be affixed to anything on the road or rails. (Requirements may include color, size, location, materials, lighting, etc.). Because of these regulations, many temporary options such as taping or using magnets to apply a “label” may not be feasible.
  • Other solutions exist. For example, as far as we are aware, DOT does allow for the use of customized “seals” on such trucks and containers. A simple seal with a running number and “organic” designation can be ordered, or blank seals/tags where the required information can be written using a permanent marker.

What are some examples of nonretail containers and labels?

  • Answers:
    • A laminated piece of paper with the required information affixed with tape or magnets to a stationary storage container.
    • Permanent “Organic” designation and ID number painted on a grain bin.
    • Tags with the required information attached to wire that fastens onto a container
    • Tote labels
    • Bulk bags of seed
    • Cartons of produce
    • See the “Examples” section at the end of this document for visual examples.



Basic Label

The above example could be affixed to a tote, cardboard box, barrel, bin, or any type of nonretail container. This is the simplest version of what is required to be present.

Basic Label with Additional Information

The above example could be affixed to a tote, cardboard box, barrel, bin, or any type of nonretail container. This is an example of a label that includes information in addition to the two mandatory pieces of information. Any additional information must be accurate and not misleading and will be reviewed and approved by OneCert.

USDA Organic Logo Decals, Stickers or Magnets

This specific example is a magnet, sourced from Amazon (although may be available at a number of retailers) and may be applied to bins or other metal containers to satisfy the organic identification portion of the requirements. A unique identifier must be used in conjunction with this seal.

Tag Labels / Seals

Tag labels like the above were purchased from AliExpress (although may be available from a number of retailers) at low cost and affixed to trucks and trailers. The tags are customizable and could also include the operation name, or other information, as desired. You can also purchase blank tags where the organic designation and unique identifier (e.g. lot number) may be written on with a permanent marker at the time of use.

Bin Signage

Nonretail labels may include permanent signs, like the bin number (unique identifier) that is painted on the door in this example, or temporary signs, like the laminated paper affixed to the bin with tape.