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Your Certified Organic Grocery Store

By Courtney Mudge, September 28, 2011  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Courtney Mudge

Courtney 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:

  • Organic 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

That’s a lot! 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:

  • Throughout 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: Food Issues, Organics




Chris Pedersen says ...
Interesting article on organic integrity. Thanks for pointing out issues many of us don't think about, like contact with sanitizers. As a cancer conqueror those things are important to me. That's why we shop Whole Foods Market (WFM). It's been a long anticipated wait to get our own WFM nearby in Folsom. I'm getting very excited to have the abundant variety of fresh, organic produce offered by WFM and now am familiar with the "extra mile" you take on behalf of our health.
09/28/2011 1:32:09 PM CDT
fresh says ...
Great to see your commitment to organic food.
09/28/2011 2:29:02 PM CDT
Martina Snow says ...
Thank you so much for explaining this in such detail. I have started looking more and more into organic products and I have to say that I'm happy to know that it is being controlled and assured that when I think I'm buying organic, I'm really buying organic. Thank you for keeping the organic products well taken care of.
09/28/2011 5:06:37 PM CDT
Jennifer Cullen says ...
While this article opened my eyes to the hard work involved behind the scenes,and I greatly appreciate the efforts to keep our organic products pure, I really wish WFM would take a stand against Monsanto and not sell ANY GMO products, or at the bare minimum requiring proper labeling. As a consumer who does almost all of her shopping at the Sacramento store I was very disappointed to discover many brands WFM sell are tainted with GMO. This is disturbing because when one shops at a store that places such a high value on "whole foods", we don't expect they would dare sell these products. Please continue to provide us the high quality foods we have come to expect from your stores, but please allow us the opprotunity to CHOOSE whether we are willing to consume the GMO products by labeling them accordingly. Thank you
09/28/2011 6:32:47 PM CDT
Ryan Bradley says ...
You guys continue to set the bar for organic and natural foods. Keep up the good work.
09/28/2011 7:45:12 PM CDT
Love the Life you Live says ...
I recently visited your store in Salt Lake City. I was super impressed! I wish we had such a store at home in Auckland, New Zealand! http://www.facebook.com/NZNutrition
09/29/2011 5:38:10 AM CDT
Hanging on for Life says ...
If it were not for you guys I would have a hard time trying to survive in this world. I am lactose intolerant and also animal meat intolerant and no cross contamination either. Wow what a mess! Love your store. Keep up the good work!
12/29/2011 7:23:12 PM CST
Scotty1121 says ...
Yes, thank you for this articular! It is great to know, and understand the high standards you guys go through to keep organic, organic. :) Thanks you, great stores!
07/25/2012 3:47:35 PM CDT
Jerry Dillard, Environmental Technologies says ...
How can the CEO of Whole Foods make these comments ? "we have to coexist with GMO" , then later say, "the jury is still" referring to the dangers of Monsanto & GMO on our health & the Environment." ? Scientific studies have proven the impact of both Pesticides & the Nitrous Oxide from Nitrogen fertilizers synthetic nitrogen cycle. Just because pesticide is now hidden in the GMO seed "makes no difference," in fact it is worse as it is now in the plant tissue & meat we eat. At least in the past we felt better washing the pesticide off the plant before we ate it, which was our best option... Monsanto is the same company that has said DDT was safe in 40's & 50's, then Agent Orange in the Vietnam era, which we know soldiers returning came down with cancer...This is fact... no jury is still out. After comments of Coexist with GMO... after over 10 years of being a WF customer, my wife and myself will no longer shop at Whole Foods where a CEO is supporting views that are contrary to Patriots & Organic living people... We can not support a company that has lied to this country 3 different times as to the safety of their products, we are not idiots out here...the dioxins remaining in the soil of Vietnam today tell the true story where 1000's have died from cancer and 10,000's of child deformities thru exposure to dioxins found in their soil from Agent Orange...DDT was also previously advertised as safe to use in the home, on & under couches, yards & more.... Monsanto lied then and is deceiving this country now. Legitimate dioxin test & PCB's tell the truth of their product history. Monsanto has been a major contributor in the escalation of cancer in our country. In the 50's the cancer incident was 1 in 8000 people, today it is 1 in 2 for women & 1 in 3 for men, yes there were other contributors like cigarettes, asbestos & other in home cleaning products made from chemicals, but the DDT from Monsanto advertised as "safe to use in the home" certainly did not help to reduce cancer , it just added more risk. To think today, Monsanto can attempt to get pesticides into our food chain, after Pesticides have finally been exposed truthfully for their dangers to our health & the environment, I'm actually lacking a word to describe this insensitivity for mankind. I'm now going on 68 years in this world, I have not ever experienced a Corporation thinking more about their Profits and sacrificing others for their Greed...Of course they are in good company with the Cigarette & Chemical companies. Today we feed GMO Alfalfa to horses & GMO corn & soy bean to cattle, Now they want to feed it to humans...The worse part is they do not want to be identified thru a label...so their lie can be turned to truth. Instead we can protect ourselves, just have those not growing with GMO say, Non GMO , it will work just as well...the public has the right to know what they are feeding to their horses, cattle and families... Knowing Whole foods CEO supports "not labeling GMO" & his statment "we need to coexist," ever attempt to mix oil & water, they will not naturally mix... just let the real Organic suppliers state; Organic Grown, Non GMO... After the Stanford study released on Sept. 2nd, Organic is no longer a hot word anyway, study said there was no nutrition difference and pesticides & fertilizer appeared also in the Organic grown...I'm confident this was a bought junk science study...Monsanto, Oil & Fertilizers companies are attempting to stop the mass retreat from Inorganic grown food, "that we now know is impacting our health from lack of minerals & leaching of the most dangerous of the 3 GHG, Nitrous oxide into our atmosphere 24/7. Knowing this Stanford study is now out there, It may be wise to add Non GMO to the Organic label ?Since we know the argument of reason is now raging . Identifying Non GMO is something we can control...Will have more meaning for those concerned about eating a food grown with GMO. especially to those whose health requires, they not eat food grown with pesticides or nitrogen fertilizers... inside or outside application... Did you know,"The way we grow our food is the #1 polluter on the planet...?" We use Oil, Coal & Natural Gas, to process into Nitrogen fertilizers, we fix this synthetic nitrogen at the fertilizer plant, not in the soil as Nature intended. Result is decline in the microorganisms which impact every animal, human and yes even the Bee population is declining from the loss of minerals in the pollen, as a result of low minerals in the soils, since soils that used nitrogen fertilizers are not even close to the required 60-80 minerals for ideal soil & maximum mineral nutrition... Today USA soils are 85% depleted of minerals. Our other source of minerals was from our drinking water, which now has to be filtered for safety from pollutants & when we do, we remove minerals same for bottled water...Result, we no longer receive needed minerals thru our water or our food as God intended...The human body consist of 102 minerals, these minerals are then used by the cells mitochondria to produce energy & immunity for the body...without minerals the body uses energy drinks & caffeine, which we have so many on the market I can no longer count. Obesity & overweight is just different disease states; these ultimately can culminate into other disease's like; diabetes, cancers , heart challenges & more... Pesticide in a seed does not take scientific study to prove these disease states, we already have this info confirmed in humans and animals... pesticide test have already proven this... FYI...Disease is result of a state of dis-ease to long in the body, like to much stress is not healthy, leads to heart & cancer issues. If we truly want to support we lower health care cost in our country for future generations, then help support "we are what we eat" and "how we grow our food."... Maintain a healthy diet of minerals in food & water... if not supplement minerals into your body. Nitrogen fertilizers do not provide these needed 60-80 minerals in soil for maximum mineral nutrition. There is nothing more important than "what is in the food we eat" & yet Not One Republican Senator voted, "we have a right to know what is in our food" don't take my word check this out for yourself, this will astound you. Really this was a sad day for our freedom, mental & physical health security... If we truly want to lower health care cost for future generations, then make sure Organic growers replace the needed minerals in their soil, which most are not doing & promote "stop using fertilizers manure from cattle fed GMO corn now that we know 88% of all corn is GMO & 93% of all Soy Bean grown in the USA is GMO to grow Organic. View this other inconvenient truth video...http://environment.umn.edu/about/ione_bios/jon_foley.html click on the Ted video... Know my wife is not to eat food grown with pesticides, if she wants to live... For the WF CEO to say, "we must learn to coexist with GMO" that we know contains pesticide, then say, the verdict is still out, referring to our health is hard to hear coming from a Organic Whole Food CEO . Why does he think others eat organic, to say the verdict is still out on pesticide free food, we create the profits for W and then he uses against the Organic community. My response to him is, to know the verdict is not still out, my wife almost died from pesticides in foods... We also know Nitrogen fertilizers are the #1 polluter of the Environment & Agriculture is now using 70% of water on the planet from the over use of NPK fertilizers. This water is then polluted further by fertilizer nitrates that enter our ground water as run off . In addition we now have over 475 identified Ocean dead zones as a result of Nitrous Oxide leaching from soils 24/7 due to the synthetic nitrogen cycle created to grow our food... This information is supplied for awareness, not argument, hope it helps and s worth posting... When it comes to GMO & Monsanto their history is proof, & we already know the truth of who they are, thank you for hearing me. :) Jerry Dillard, San Marcos Calif.
10/04/2012 9:58:09 PM CDT
Keith says ...
Why do you not label the GMO foods you sell ?
12/06/2012 1:13:26 PM CST
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@KEITH - Great question. Every ingredient of every single product would have to be tested for GMOs in order to label them as such. This is why we help educate customers what to look for, and to notice products that have been tested. We encourage customers who are trying to avoid GMOs to look for organics, 365 products sourced to avoid GMOs, & Non-GMO Project verified products. You can search on the Non-GMO Project website for other products that have gone through testing: http://www.nongmoproject.org/product-verification/.
12/07/2012 10:43:36 AM CST
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01/21/2013 5:14:32 AM CST
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02/13/2013 8:33:02 PM CST
Vesna Coleman says ...
stumbled across this article while looking up stuff on wholefoods and found especially the comments very interesting. I would like to add my two cents in the vain hope that one day they might be taken into consideration by WF. I live in Central Europe and small-scale farming and healthy, scrumptuous quality eating and clean water are some of my big passions. I have a vast experience with whole foods stores and organic and non-organic whole foods and products since I shop at farmers, farmers amrkets, regular and organic stores for quality food all day. I have been to WF a lot whenever I was in the States. WF struck me as definitely tons better than most of the stuff you will see in regular supermarkets. The radishes for example are actually eatable and appetizing. There is alot of stuff of excellent quality: broccoli, radishes, cucumbers, apples much of the produce. Naively I first assumed that all the produce is organic because this is what you would expect here when you go to a wholefoods/ organic market. I don't really mind the fact that that is not the case at WF - I just would like to point out thT. I. did not. find the labelling clear at all - at least at the markets that I visited. It was clear when it said USDA organic - but there were some other things like the grapes or some blueberries for example where it was not really clear. Grapes and some blueberries for example - I would wish for more teansparency here. Clear explanations whether these are grapes feom soil that is maybe currently in transition to being certified organic. or from less heavily sprayed inegrative farming méthods or the regular pesticide-laden stuff. If you are selling the latter, I would. wonder why. The customers are not coming to WF because they want the same old toxic cocktails that they can get in any Walmart for less. Some products in WF are great, I liked seeing good-quality items that we do not have here or in lesser quality. But of course I was missing some things.... maybe one day somebody introduces them to US organic stores. I am pretty appalled to read here that you are also selling GMO products. Disgusted and disappointed, I have to say. It is sad enough that American customers are being denied labelling and a conscious choice as to what they are ingesting - but for a "wholefoods" store to be selling this questionalble stuff is absolutely inacceptable. I am glad I found out. I will make sure I spread the word to everyone I know and do my research before I go to WF when I soon move to the US. Another reaction of mine will be that I will only buy at WF what I really can't find in any other more responsible shop. I will also try to support small local farmers by driving directly to them and farmers markets. And I'll try to grow my own stuff as much as I can - again to support WF less due to its stance on GMO. And I am somebody who relly puts their money where their heart is. If WF was leading a movement for clear GM labelling and just keeping the stuff out of the stores, I would support it with every penny. I know I am just one small customer out there - my choices will not make a big diffence in WF profits at the end of. the day but I firmly believe that change starts with each single one of us and the choices we make. There are many more like me and we can make change happen even with the smallest steps. I am sure that if there was good will WF would and could find ways to keep GM products out of its stores. WF is also pretty pricey - I understand to a certain extent and I am prepared to pay farmers and suppliers fairly for quality food which has to come at a price. And prices are for many products even higher at Earthfare - the only other wholfeood place I have visited in the US so far. But some of the prices I find pretty unreasonable - especially when the non-organic stuff comes into play. I still have not figured out why quality food is so pricey in the US? Does it all have to be imported? Are there many monocultures so that fresh produce is just being grown less which would drive up the prices? Is labor very expensive due to the benefits that the farm laborers get? Now, not all foods are more expensive than here but many that people could even grow in their back gardens in many climates just are. Apples for example - or peppérs, cucumbers, mushrooms to name a few. WF is certainly profiting from the scenario but they're also doing an admitredly good job in many areas. My wish for WF would be to keep up the good parts of its work. We as customers want clean, honest quality products and we do sense insincerety. Some of the foods and ingredients in the self-service cantine struck me as not so whole and healthy looking - it would be nice if there were more takeaway options without sweeteners and canola oil and an ovrdose of salt other than plain broccoli and cooked rice :) Even though it does look appetizing and there is a lot of variety. Keep improving WF and introduce that GMO labelling if you truly wish to live up to your name. I wish you had more serious competition that would motivate you to keep evolving and getting even better. You are doing a good job but what really makes you look good is how crappy the regular choices are :) Looking forward to shopping at WF fairly regularly soon. Sorry for spelling an punctuation mistakes good folks no time to check, have to go on my daily shopping trip :)
02/14/2013 8:44:31 AM CST
Vesna Coleman says ...
just wrote a lengthy comment -where did it disappear? Are they not being posted directly on the wall?
02/14/2013 8:46:30 AM CST
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@VESNA - All of the comments submitted on the blog are read through manually before they are approved so they adhere to our Comment Posting Guidelines. You'll see your comment is posted now. Thanks!
02/14/2013 2:10:24 PM CST
Britt Phelps says ...
I was wondering if you are having a special on organic ham for the holiday. Thanks for your time.....
03/27/2013 5:59:23 AM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@BRITT - Our products/sales vary between locations so check with your local store to see what options they have!
04/01/2013 3:57:45 PM CDT
Randy says ...
Could we ever expect Whole Foods to create the FIRST all Certified Organic Food grocery store of its kind? Or will the competition beat them to it? As a fan, of the great Whole Foods chain, I would hope and love to see them become the pioneers of this movement.
06/29/2013 12:36:29 AM CDT
Joyce Jacobs says ...
Is all the meat in the whole Foods butcher department organic?
12/11/2013 2:17:07 PM CST
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@JOYCE - Not everything in our stores is organic. The organic meat options should be clearly labeled in the meat department. If you have any questions a meat team member will be happy to help!
12/12/2013 11:29:31 AM CST
Lois says ...
I live in Hawaii, are all the fruits ie: especially apples and oranges organic?
05/04/2014 11:17:48 AM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@LOIS - Our produce options will differ between stores. Check with your local store in Hawaii and they can let you know if they specifically have organic apples and oranges in stock!
05/05/2014 12:10:35 PM CDT
James says ...
I love the store and the products I buy there,but you have taken the option of using a check to pay away.i don't use credit cards because they get hacked and I don't carry that kind of cash on me in any store I use checks and never had any problems as had target and Home Depot . Remember this is why they have banks!
09/12/2014 5:34:42 PM CDT
Jodi Selene says ...
It's not just confusing, it's misleading to say that Whole Foods is a certified organic grocery store when the actual organic products are only about 40% of everything you sell in the store. Why not really go organic? I shop at WF and I'm a share holder of stock. I hate going to the prepared foods section where NOTHING is organic. I cannot stop at WF and eat lunch. I buy very little, actually, at your stores.
09/30/2014 9:24:38 PM CDT