Certification eligibility and requirements

#Requiring certification

To protect organic integrity, most entities in the organic supply chain that produce or handle organic products require organic certification. There are limited exemptions outlined in §205.101 that do not require organic certification.
Businesses who perform the following organic activities require organic certification:

  • Growing or producing organic products.
  • Handling organic products, such as:
    • Selling, trading, or facilitating the sale or trade
    • Processing (Cooking, baking, curing, heating, drying, mixing, grinding, churning, separating, extracting, slaughtering, cutting, fermenting, distilling, eviscerating, preserving, dehydrating, freezing, chilling, or otherwise manufacturing and includes the packaging, canning, jarring, or otherwise enclosing food in a container)
    • Packaging, containerizing, repackaging, or labeling
    • Importing into the United States
    • Exporting from another country into the United States
    • Combining, aggregating, culling, conditioning, or treating
    • Storing, receiving, or loading

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 (such as pallet tags) 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 who only sell retailed packaged and labeled products that are produced by certified organic co-packers
  • Product transport businesses who only transport but do not perform any additional handling activities
  • Storage facilities (see exemptions below)
  • 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 retail packaged 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?

OTCO has created a Certification Matrix to help determine whether operations require organic certification or may be exempt.


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 operations. In addition, exempt operations must maintain all organic product records for at least three years.

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:

  • Fertilizers
  • Sanitizers
  • Pest controls
  • Soil amendments
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals (including salt)
  • Fish and other aquatic species

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