Demystifying USDA Certified Organic Qualifications

Written by: | October 2, 2015 | 2 responses

Natural and Organic Wholesale

Laura Badcock VP and GM Essential Wholesale & Labs Licensed Aesthetician


Navigating USDA Certified Organic Requirements for your Brand

Securing the USDA Certified Organic seal for your skin care, bath and body care, hair care, and cosmetic products is a process, and can sometimes be challenging. Essential has done the work to acquire and retain our standing as a USDA Certified Organic, and Oregon Tilth Certified Organic facility. We are also an FDA Registered and cGMP-compliant facility. I’m sharing this to let you know we can help you navigate the USDA Certified Organic process. There are a couple of ways you can approach certification and one way is to start with products already certified.

Starting with USDA Certified Organic Products

Earlier this year Essential launched seven USDA Certified Organic products. Our entire team has been very excited about these new products not only because we love using them, but we are also celebrating the success of creating these products and being able to use the USDA Organic Certification on them. You may be asking yourself “What’s the big deal? Organic is organic so why is this certification worth celebrating? It’s important because not only are the products under the organic certification umbrella they’re also great products. Our customers have been asking if they can brand these products as their own and still use the USDA Certified Organic label. And we’re happy to say, the answer is probably “YES!”  There are some steps to get through, but not nearly as many as if you started with products that weren’t yet certified.

Just what is Organic?

Before the establishment of the National Organic Program, the term “organic” was used with abandon. In some cases, if something was produced on planet earth, it was labeled “organic”. Different standards were randomly applied and there was no universally accepted definition. It was a bit like the Wild West: lawless and reckless. In the 1980’s it was clear that consumers needed to know exactly what “organic” meant and a grassroots movement began to standardize the term “organic.” By 1990, the Organic Foods Product Act was established, and in October of 2002 the National Organic Program (NOP) standards were adopted by the USDA.

Stringent Guidelines for USDA Certified Facilities

There are definitely challenges associated with organic certification. Measures must be taken to quarantine certified organic and conventional ingredients as well as steps to prevent certified organic ingredients coming in contact with any substances which are not allowed in organic manufacturing. Therefore only approved cleaning compounds may be used to sanitize work spaces and utensils used in organic manufacturing. All relevant certifications, import documents, and quality control documentation must be collected and kept on file. Certified operations must be able to track every last ounce of an organic ingredient from its arrival on the receiving dock through quality control, storage, manufacturing, packaging and shipping to customers. And certified organic operations must be prepared for annual, as well as unannounced, inspections during which their entire organic system plan is audited by their organic certifying agency. Essential Wholesale & Labs is pleased to say that we passed our most recent inspection with flying colors only this week. It is our pleasure to see to every detail of compliance with the National Organic Program so our customers don’t have to.

With clear guidelines in place, consumers are now assured that any products labeled organic in the United States meet these USDA uniform standards. In order to receive organic certification, a company must choose a certifier with the USDA National Organic Program (NOP). There are many different accredited certifiers with the NOP. Though originally created for food, the NOP became a resource for the cosmetics industry; they really needed something just as solid to be able to offer clean products whose ingredients had been grown with no synthetic fertilizers, no pesticides, no GMOs, through sewage sludge or irradiation.

Essential Wholesale & Labs embraced Organic Certification in 2006. We interviewed different certifying bodies and chose Oregon Tilth (OTCO) for its leadership in helping to develop the National Organic Standards of the USDA, and for their obvious care of the process. Oregon Tilth was one of the first to gain accreditation and begin offering organic certification under the USDA organic regulations.

When products contain multiple ingredients, such as beauty care products, understanding labeling can be confusing. The use of the word, “organic,” as well as use of the USDA seal and the seal of the certifying agency, depends primarily on the percentage of organic ingredients.

There are four general categories of multi-ingredient organic products:

100% Organic = 100% of ingredients are certified organic, excluding salt and water.

Certified Organic = 95% of ingredients are certified organic, excluding salt and water.

Made with Organic Ingredients = At least 70% of ingredients are certified organic, excluding salt and water.

No Label Claims = Less than 70% of ingredients are certified organic.

Our Products + Your Brand = USDA Certified?

You may be wondering if you can repackage and label USDA Certified Organic Products that you purchase from Essential. The good news is that you can.

If you wish to have your product carry the USDA logo, first the product itself must get certified. Then your products filled and labeled and shelf ready by an Organic Certified Handler, such as Essential. You will be asked to complete a Private Label Agreement and supply your label. We submit these to Oregon Tilth, along with our certification, and they determine if they will grant your products the right to use the USDA Certified Seal. If you want to get a product certified we can help with that too, it will just take longer and we will need to ensure the ingredients themselves meet USDA Certified standards. We carry over 50 that already USDA Certified Organic.

So that’s all about USDA Certified Organic. Please let us know how we can help.

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