We’re serious about organic. So serious, in fact, that Whole Foods Market is the first and only certified organic national grocery store. From how we source and transport products to how we handle them, each store is inspected to go above and beyond to protect organic integrity. So whether it’s crisp organic apples in our Produce department or organic chicken in our Meat department, you can trust that organic stays organic from farm to cart. Not only is this our commitment to you, but it’s also at the heart of who we are and what we believe in: selling the highest-quality natural and organic foods.
What Is a Certified Organic Grocery Store?
If you’re 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 persistent pesticides allowed. In a similar vein, Whole Food Market stores are certified organic.
Our certification assures you that we have fulfilled strict handling standards so that the organic products you purchase from us stay organic from when they leave the farm to when you pick them up to add to your shopping cart. While that may sound like a simple statement, it’s a huge commitment.
Why It’s a Big Deal:
In 2002, when the USDA National Organic Standards opens in a new tab were enacted, we decided that our stores would meet the same requirements as organic processing facilities. Why? Here’s the thing — the USDA doesn’t actually require an organic certification for retailers who sell organic products. We’ve gone the extra mile to have all our stores certified* because it enables us to offer the highest-quality organic foods and products for our shoppers. In 2003, we became the first certified organic national retailer.
How Certification Works:
Gaining certification as an organic grocery store is similar to the organic certification for food processing plants. Certifiers accredited by the USDA evaluate the plans and production systems at facilities that process organic foods. These are some of the compliance points these certifiers are looking for:
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 commingling (ensuring that nonorganic ingredients don’t mix with organic ingredients)
Verification that cleaning and sanitation procedures do not leave residues or compromise organic integrity
Each year our certifier, California Certified Organic Farmers opens in a new tab (CCOF), inspects every one of our stores to rigorous standards. Specifically, they’re assessing practices that involve unpackaged products like produce, bulk foods, meat and specialty cheeses. They also make sure we have current certification documentation for any unpackaged organic products we’re handling and selling.
How We Protect Organic Integrity
There’s attention to detail — and then there’s obsession to detail. With 20,000 organic products and counting opens in a new tab across our stores, maintaining our organic grocer certification is a big job, but we don’t shy away from the hard work. Here are just a few examples of what we’re doing:
Superior sourcing standards
Organic integrity starts with our buyers finding the best certified organic growers and suppliers. The buyers continue to make annual visits, not only to ensure suppliers are still meeting our standards, but also to build lasting and trusting relationships.
Proper handling and storage
Organic doesn’t stop at the supplier level. When products leave the farm, we take extra caution to protect their organic integrity at our certified organic distribution centers and store receiving areas.
Special training for our team members
Our team members receive special training on what maintaining our organic certification in-store requires. From Bakery to Produce, each department has its own set of procedures that must be followed during buying, receiving, storing, prepping, labeling and displaying of foods and products.
No commingling (and we mean it!)
Seriously, our organics are untouchable. Throughout the stores, our team members work every day to help ensure that organic and conventional products never touch, whether they’re stored or displayed. If a product's organic integrity is compromised, we won't sell that product as organic.
Protection of organic prep spaces
Before prepping organic foods in our kitchens, we’re required to completely remove any sanitizer residue to prevent contamination. This includes any surface that touches food – knives, cutting boards, displays and bins. Our team members keep written logs showing that they’ve removed cleaner and sanitizer from these surfaces.
Gaining and maintaining organic certification of our stores isn’t easy. We believe it's worth it for the benefit it brings to our shoppers, including giving them a choice to buy products that take into account the health of our planet.
*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.