The 4 Levels of Organic Food Certification

Posted by Hannah Broaddus

USDA Organic Seal LogoIf you are getting your retail food product certified organic, you’ll want to figure out which level of organic certification your product will quality for and determine what your marketing/quality goals are.

There are four options for organic claims — two of them are allowed to use the USDA Organic Seal on their packaging, and two of them are not.

If your goal is to get the organic seal on your product and you find that not enough of your raw ingredients qualify, you’ll need to revisit your ingredient sources and internal packaging process to figure out how you can compromise between quality requirements, prices and marketing goals.


Levels Of Organic Certification

There are four levels of organic certification that a food manufacturer can go through. You can tell the difference between these certification levels by the wording used on the outside of a product’s packaging.



100% Organic Certified

All ingredients and processing aids must be certified organic. These foods may use the USDA organic seal as well as the 100% organic claim.

This wording says that there is absolutely no chance of cross contamination with non-organic ingredients in the plant or where it is grown. All of this is documented, and special practices must be used in your facility to stand by this guarantee, which typically requires “organic only” production lines and/or entire plants.


Organic Certified

All agricultural ingredients must be certified organic, but the product can contain up to 5% non-organic content. These foods may use the USDA organic seal.

With this quality seal, 95+% of the ingredients are grown organically. Many manufacturers use this organic seal option, because their products may contain very minor ingredients that do not have an organic option available, or perhaps building a secondary “organic only” production line is not possible for their facility.


A note on 100% Organic Certified vs. Organic Certified

If you are looking to get your product 100% organic certified, plan to create a facility that is 100% organic only, or build an exclusive production line with processes in place to certify that there is no cross contamination within your facility.

Sharing production lines will often make your product line Organic vs. 100% Organic due to cross contamination concerns.


Made With Organic Ingredients

Contains at least 70% certified organic ingredients; the remaining 30% is not required to be certified organic, but also may not be produced using excluded methods. These foods may not use the USDA organic seal.

70%+ of the ingredients used in these products are certified organic. The remainder don’t have to be certified organic, but they do have to be “up to code” in a sense (whereas they can’t be produced using certain methods that the USDA doesn’t approve of). These organic products typically say “Made With Organic Ingredients” on the front, and list which inputs are organic in the ingredient list on the back.


Specific Organic Ingredients

Contains less than 70% certified organic ingredients. May list certified organic ingredients as organic in the ingredient list. These foods may not use the USDA organic seal.

70%- of the ingredients used in these products are certified organic. They can note on the front of their packaging that the product contains “specific organic ingredients”, and then on the ingredient list on the back, they will state which are organic and which aren’t.

Topics: Organic



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