Certification eligibility and requirements
Organic certification is not required for all operations. However, for certain types of food businesses the standards are clear that certification is necessary. Businesses working with organic products that require certification include:
- Packers / re-packers (including repacking certified organic products into new packaging)
- Labeling / re-labeling businesses
Do I need certification if I apply labels to packaged and sealed organic products?
If you apply a label that makes an organic claim — e.g., uses the word organic, the USDA organic seal, etc. — you must be certified. Labels without organic claims do not require certification.
Do I need certification if placing a sealed organic product into additional, labeled packaging?
If the additional packaging makes an organic claim you must be certified. However, additional packaging labels without organic claims do not require certification.
#Optional to obtain certification
What types of operations considered are considered optional?
- Brand owners
- Traders / brokers (livestock brokers must be certified)
- Product transport businesses
- Livestock transport businesses
- Storage facilities
- Operations that meet the USDA National Organic Program’s organic exemptions (see below)
Do I need certification if I contract other businesses to produce my organic products?
No. If you contract someone else to produce organic products for you and only sell the final product — what’s known as a “brand owner” — you do not require certification. However, your co-packer or custom manufacturer is required to be certified and to list your organic products on their certificate.
#Exempt from certification
Which types of food businesses are exempt from organic certification?
If one of the statements below describes your food business, you are exempt from organic certification:
- Handlers with annual gross sales of organic products totaling less than $5,000
- Operations that only handle “packaged” organic products that remain in the same package or container
- Retail food operations (e.g., restaurants and retailers with a brick-and-mortar location)
All exempt food businesses are able to opt into organic certification and be eligible to use the USDA organic seal, make organic label claims on the principal display panel and more.
Do I need to follow organic regulations if my business is exempt?
Uncertified businesses falling under an exemption are still responsible for following all organic regulations — e.g., preventing commingling and contamination, recordkeeping to demonstrate compliance, etc. — and must meet the USDA NOP labeling requirements for organic products produced by exempt or excluded operations.
Are there any prohibited activities for exempt, uncertified food businesses?
If your food business qualifies as exempt but produces organic products you cannot:
- Display the USDA organic seal, any certifying agent’s seal or another identifying mark that represents the exempt or excluded operation as a certified organic operation
- Represent products as certified organic to any buyer
- Have products identified or represented as “organic” in a product processed by others (e.g. used as an organic ingredient in a product made by someone else)
Are any types of products excluded from organic certification?
Organic certification is limited to agricultural or agriculturally-based products. Materials and other non-agriculturally produced products are excluded from being able to be certified organic, such as:
- Pest controls
- Soil amendments
- Minerals (including salt)
- Fish and other aquatic species