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8 Best Handling Practices for Organic Retailers

Maintain organic integrity with organic product handling best practices

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Retail food establishments including restaurants, delicatessens, bakeries, grocery stores or any other retail outlet with an in-store eat-in or carry-out food service, do not need to be certified organic in order to sell certified organic food. However, all retail food establishments are required to maintain the organic integrity of their organic food products.

As an organic retailer, you must maintain the organic integrity of the foods you sell. Try to be extra mindful of package receiving, food storage and product display. Most of the time, if an organic handling mistake happens, it'll happen in one of the previous areas.

1. Purchase Certified Organic Products

Make sure the products you purchase are 100% certified organic products from a certified USDA organic supplier. All organic suppliers should be certified by a USDA-accredited organic certifying agent. It's perfectly within your rights to check up on a supplier and their certifying agent. You can check certification and accreditation standings at the National Organic Program website.

2. Keep Purchase Records

Be sure to keep records of all purchases. Your records, at the very least, should include certifying agent, supplier information, date of purchase, source and quantities. The National Organic Program (NOP) recommends keeping your records on hand for at least 3 years, in order to demonstrate compliance.

3. Maintain a Clean Receiving Area

When receiving organic products the receiving area should be clean and free from prohibited pest control products and other debris that may result in organic products co-mingling with non-organic products.

Have someone you trust available to receive shipments. If a truck or shipment smells odd, for example, smells like a chemical cleaner or pest control product, it could mean that your organic food has been in contact with NOP prohibited substances.

4. Look Over Your Packages

Organic product shipments should be in great shape, not tattered and torn. Broken packaging may mean that your organic products have been commingling with non-organic products. Also, any organic packages you accept during receiving should be clearly labeled as organic and have a certifying agent’s name on them.

5. Unpack Organics Carefully

When unpacking organic products that come in packaging, designate specific shelves and coolers for all organic vs. non-organic products. Never reuse packaging, such as boxes or bins that were used for non-organics for organic food storage.

If repackaging is necessary, use packaging materials and storage containers that are free from synthetic fungicides, preservatives and fumigants.

6. Separate Organics from Non-organics

You shouldn't stack non-packaged organic products below any non-organic wet produce, such as meat or poultry or bulk items. This means no stacking non-organics above organics on a hand truck either. Always separate unpackaged non-organic and organic dry products as well. While a physical barrier, such as cardboard, is recommended, you can simply use ample space as a separator.

7. Practice Safe and Non-toxic Pest Control

If pests become a problem at your establishment, you should engage in the least toxic method of pest removal first. Make sure pests don't gain access to your establishment in the first place by keeping the establishment clean and sealing wall cracks. Immediately remove signs of pest habitat, pest food sources and pest breeding areas as well.

After prevention, try mechanical or physical controls then try repellents that comply with the National List. If you must use a synthetic substance not approved on the National List, than you have to keep the substance out of contact with organic food.

To learn which pest control substances are allowed by NOP regulations see the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.

8. Label Organic Items Correctly

Organic labeling can be tricky, but it's not impossible to label organics correctly either. To learn more read the following:

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