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The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Your Certified Organic Grocery Store

By Courtney Mudge, June 10, 2013  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Courtney Mudge

Certified Organic GrocerCourtney Mudge is the Organic Certification Manager for Whole Foods Market. She's a 5th generation Texan who grew up on a ranch in the Hill Country. When she's not coaching our stores on organic integrity, she's being crafty and searching for the perfect taco.

When you hear the word “organic” what do you think of? If you’re at all familiar with organic farming, then you probably know that a certified organic apple has to be grown according to certain standards – such as no toxic or persistent pesticides. Makes sense. You might also know that certified organic beef comes from cows that eat certified organic feed and steer clear (no pun intended) of antibiotics and added growth hormones. All that makes sense too. So, when someone says “organic,” bucolic images of farms, orchards and pastures probably come to mind. Bustling urban grocery stores? Not so much.

Well, like those apples and that beef, Whole Foods Market® stores are certified organic. “Wait, what?” – you may ask – “A grocery store can be certified organic?” Yes, it can and we are.

Though, I admit it’s a little confusing, especially since not ALL the products in our stores are organic. Basically, our certification means that we ensure the organic integrity of the organic products we sell from the time they reach our stores until they are safely tucked into your shopping cart.

It’s similar to the organic certification for food processing plants. Hadn’t thought of that either? Well, that box of organic crackers you just bought is full of organic ingredients (insert bucolic images here) but what else makes those crackers organic? A lot, actually.

Certifiers accredited by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) evaluate the plans and production systems at facilities that process organic foods. Even though they are assessing different details than they are at an organic farm, the certifiers are still looking for the same basic compliance points:

  • organicsOrganic integrity of sources (verifying that organic ingredients are indeed organic)
  • Truth in labeling (making sure the food being produced is labeled accurately)
  • Prevention of contamination of any kind
  • Prevention of co-mingling (ensuring that non-organic ingredients don’t mix with organic ingredients)
  • Verification that cleaning and pest control procedures do not leave residues or compromise organic integrity

Those five points summarize pages and pages of detailed federal regulation. Every organic product you buy is required by law to meet those standards at both the farm and the processing facility.

But what happens when that organic product leaves the farm or processing facility and gets to the store? Since the USDA National Organic Program does not require an organic certification for retailers who sell organic products, many conventional stores handle organic products just like all the other products on their shelves. Whatever cleaning chemicals or pest control methods their local health department allows, they can use. Many retailers who do choose to be certified organic often only sell organics that are packaged or pre-packed to avoid some of the more difficult processes necessary to remain certified.

However, Whole Foods Market takes its organic certification and its commitment to organic integrity seriously and doesn’t shy away from the hard work. In 2002 when the National Organic Standards were enacted, Whole Foods Market leadership took Core Value #1 — selling the highest quality natural and organic products available — to heart and decided that every one of our stores would meet the same requirements as organic processing facilities and in 2003 Whole Foods Market became the first national certified organic retailer. While that may sound like a simple statement, it is a huge commitment.

Each year our certifier, CCOF, audits every one of our stores to the same rigorous standards as certified organic processing facilities. So, what exactly do these inspectors do in our stores? They are looking at our practices that involve unpackaged organic products. Obviously, you don’t need to do much to make sure a box of organic cereal stays organic. But we do have a lot to do when it comes to produce, bulk, meat, bakeries, cheese and even some salad bars. Here are just a few examples:

  • organicsThroughout the stores, we go to great lengths to ensure that organic and conventional products never touch; there’s no “co-mingling” here.
  • When sanitizing a surface that touches food – knives, cutting boards, displays, bins – we’re required to completely remove any sanitizer residue, and our team members keep written logs showing that they’ve removed cleaner and sanitizer from food contact surfaces.
  • Whether it’s from a small local grower or a larger farm in another state, our organic produce has to come from certified organic growers. CCOF makes sure we have current certification documentation for any unpackaged products we’re handling and selling.
  • Every team member who handles organic food needs to understand what the standard requires, so we’ve designed training programs to help. (These include a sing-along video about sanitation practices, and a video game called “The Organic Avengers,” with villains named “The Contaminator” and “The Commingler.” I am not joking; just ask any team member!) The certifier verifies that our teams are well-trained and have the knowledge they need to uphold the standard.

It’s a lot of work, but we want to do it! Organic integrity is paramount here. Although our stores in Canada and the UK do not fall under the USDA National Organic Program, they are also certified organic and meet the specific guidelines for each of those countries.

Do you find it easy to locate “Certified Organic” products at your local Whole Foods Market? Share your experience in the comments below!

Category: Organics, Food Issues




Lawrence MaGee says ...
I've been a customer since the first day I walked into Wholefoods in 1993. It is the only retail store that I look forward to shopping at, period! I absolutely love just being in the store. But lately, I'm not a fan of Wholefoods stand on GMO & labeling. .Whole Foods has not been nearly as forthcoming with its customers about GMOs, and yet continues to charge a premium for its products. I've read reports of Wholefoods view about GMO labeling and kicking the can down the road to eventual labeling in 2018. How about no GMO's and how about the return to the founder's original intent of the store and it's name sake: W-H-O-L-E F-O-OD-S
06/13/2013 10:56:39 AM CDT
aditi says ...
Increasing organic food market has a holistic benefit to each sector involved. Animals, soil, water, consumers, farmers and traders, there is some benefit for everyone. The food grown in organic farms is not genetically modified and does not contain any harmful pesticides. It is fresh and healthier in comparison to commercially grown fruits, vegetables and dried legumes. Animal food like eggs are also more nutritious as in organic farms hens are not caged instead they are free to roam around. Similarly, cows are not kept in feed lots. It is a known fact that when animals are not caged but free to live in their natural environment, their mental and physical growth is much better.
06/15/2013 4:40:16 AM CDT
Judith Miller says ...
Do you have GMOS in your foods?
06/15/2013 11:23:59 AM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@JUDITH - Yes. Due to the pervasiveness of GMOs in the US food supply and no mandatory labeling regulations, there are products in our stores that will contain GMOs. You can read more info about our GMO labeling and other FAQs at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/about-our-products/product-faq/gmos.
06/17/2013 12:47:29 PM CDT
Julie Beck says ...
Thank you very much for providing quality organic food and for achieving and maintaining the high standards set forth by CCOF. Since the Whole Foods opened a little over a year ago in Wexford, PA, I have been shopping there because I know that the quality and integrity of the food will be amazing. As a mom with four children, one with Type 1 diabetes, I strive to provide healthy, nutritious food, free from pesticides and contaminates, to my family. I have been on a journey for the past several years to step away from the brainwashing that major food manufacturers have shoved down our throats for decades. It angers me that our nation's children are fed a steady diet of food with ingredients that can not even be pronounced and are covered in pesticides. Whole Foods has taken a stand against this and I am so appreciative to be on your "team" as a frequent shopper and to know that you are there on my team; to provide my family with the best possible food choices. My children, and this country's next generation, will be more educated and wiser with the food choices they make, and Whole Foods will be right there with them. Thank you, Whole Foods.
06/20/2013 7:24:15 AM CDT
Danielle says ...
Hi, I live in Corpus Christi Tx and we have a awfully limited selection of organic offered foods here...is there anyone who can help me out and point me in the right direction of how to get in touch with a way to buy organic...right now the ONLY place we have here to shop from is Sprouts...don't get me wrong, I love them but I want a bigger selection...please help with any info =)
08/03/2013 3:42:20 PM CDT
Chelsea says ...
Why don't you have ready made organic foods in the bakery, salad bar and deli? I would buy ready made food very often if you did.
08/17/2013 6:28:18 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@CHELSEA - In order for a product/dish to technically be organic, it must be made in an organic dedicated kitchen and cannot be cross- contaminated with conventional items, or else it is no longer organic. While some of the ingredients we use in our in-house products are organic, we cannot label them as such if we cannot find organic items for each ingredient.
08/19/2013 4:45:41 PM CDT
Dave Johnson says ...
why do i feel like when you say you have non gmo organic food, it's the same as when facebook says they respect your privacy? uh oh, time to head for the exits!!!
09/20/2013 2:18:59 PM CDT
NKC says ...
Organic food is very necessary in today's world. You have done a great job. you can send us enquiry on <a href="http://sorms.in/bnad1?getStoreIdForMainCategory=S/bangalore1368&StoreName=Simply%20Organics&StoreStatus=5">simply Organics</a>
10/03/2013 3:52:12 AM CDT
James M Wyckoff says ...
Please direct me to a local Certified Organic Grocery Store. I live in Severn, MD, 20 miles South of Baltimore and 25 miles North of Annapolis. Thank you. Sincerely, Jim
10/21/2013 11:24:42 AM CDT
Angélica - Community Moderator says ...
@JAMES M WYCKOFF There are only 3 that are on the CCOF website for Maryland... http://member.ccof.org/members?businesscontact_name=&location_options=2&address_city=&field_member_address_county_value=&address_state=MD&field_member_address_postal_code=&textfield=&value_field=
10/21/2013 3:22:17 PM CDT
Delores Rice says ...
I am very interested in organic foods, I want to know if your store sells alkaline water. Thank you for your response.
12/04/2013 1:54:41 PM CST
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@DELORES - We should have an option for you but our products can differ. Check with your local store to see exactly what they have in stock!
12/04/2013 5:15:51 PM CST
Ann Kirby says ...
whole foods-- I would like to see in every city/town especially in Ma.
01/24/2014 8:45:42 PM CST
Diana says ...
I understand that an item being labeled as USDA Organic does not mean it's 100% organic. The trusted certifications to look for are QAI, Oregon Tilth, and CCOF as well as something being labeled "100% Organic". Does your food have these certifications?
04/16/2014 8:00:47 AM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@DIANA - We have tons of organic products with various labels. Since our products differ between stores we don't have a list of each product. Check with your local store to check if you are looking for a particular product!
04/18/2014 1:41:13 PM CDT
John Catizone says ...
I live in Modesto Ca and this city desperately need one of you wonderful stores. At present all w have is Trader Joes and Sprouts plus a few very small Health food stores, all of these combined do not cut the mustard. please help me to be able to live in a healthy manner. Thanks you for you attention John
05/23/2014 11:48:59 AM CDT
Margaret Hastings says ...
When are you going to bring a Whole Foods Store to Salisbury, Maryland, 21801? WE sure need one here. There is even an empty market place vacated by Super Fresh stores last year. Just thought you'd like to know!
06/02/2014 7:31:49 PM CDT
P says ...
I still consider myself a newbie at shopping Whole Foods Market for almost 2 years. Wanted to get that out of the way. Finding Certified Organic Fresh Produce and other certified Organic products is very easy and convenient to find and love it! I always look forward to shopping at Whole Foods Market every single time I need to buy groceries. Step further other grocery stores do not have the type of selections in Certified Organic Products also very frustrating to me when in other grocery stores looking for Certified Organic Products. Only thing I wish was I live within walking distance to a Whole Foods Market to buy Fresh Organic Produce to cook everyday. Next best is living close to 2 Whole Foods Market :)
08/18/2014 1:47:43 PM CDT
Carol Lavoie says ...
We are looking for Tazo Zen lemongrass spermint orhanic iced tea. Does whole foods in Wexford Pa carry it or can they get it?
09/02/2014 3:42:18 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@CAROL - Our exact product options differ. Check with the Wexford store directly to see what they have in stock. If they don't carry it, they'll be happy to let you know if they can get this in stock!
09/03/2014 6:38:03 PM CDT
nutritional value of organic farming says ...
For this reason, every successful organic beef farm begins with quality soil, because healthy soil produces healthy livestock, which in turn promotes healthy people. These days, the mantra on the lips of a lot of folks is, try to eat in shape and reside wholesome. Traditional agricultural growers are in the practice of giving lots of synthetics to dairy cows in an attempt to boost their size and milk result.
09/26/2014 1:46:53 PM CDT
Katrina says ...
While I appreciate your commitment to this, I am still disappointed when shopping because the majority of produce and meats are "conventional". I don't buy any produce that is not organically grown and I have higher standards for my meat than what I typically find in store. Because of this, I've gotten in touch with local farms and give more of my business to them - which I'm totally okay with.
04/03/2016 9:10:04 AM CDT