Skip main navigation

A Guide to Reading Organic Labels

Get the lowdown on labeling, from organic claims to certification marks, to make your shopping trip easier.

group of organic products from whole foods market

Whether you’re stocking up on 365 by Whole Foods Market organic products or exploring organic beauty and body care, it’s easy to get mixed up in the language of organic labeling. To help you locate the best organic foods and products for your needs, we’ve created this guide so you can shop with confidence.*

The bottom line: The organic label is the most highly regulated food-sourcing label in the U.S., an organic label requires certification, and the certifier must be named on the label.

How Does Organic Labeling Work?

In the U.S., food products labeled with “organic” must be certified by an agency accredited by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Certifiers ensure that organic products meet the complex rules of what is and is not allowed. And the organic label means organic on a product sold in the U.S., even if it was certified in another country. While the name of the certifying agent must appear on packages for any products making organic claims, the use of the USDA Organic Seal isn’t required.

While the USDA Organic Seal is optional, a certification mark or statement from the accredited certifying agent is required on the package label. For example, on 365 by Whole Foods Market organic products, you may see the words “Certified organic by Quality Assurance International” on labels. Quality Assurance International (QAI) is one of the USDA’s Accredited Certifying Agents.

Organic Label Claims

Specific wording is required – and regulated – for making different types of organic label claims. Here are the three categories of claims you may see, plus exactly what they mean.

  • 100% Organic: 100% organic ingredients

  • Organic: 95% or more organic ingredients

  • Made with Organic: 70% or more organic ingredients

So whether you’re scanning the label of a box of macaroni and cheese that says “made with organic wheat” or deciding between the “100% organic juice” or the “organic juice,” here’s what to know exactly:

100% Organic

  • Product must contain only organically produced ingredients, excluding water and salt.

  • Processing aids are also regulated, not just ingredients.

  • The name of the certifying agent must appear on packages.

  • Use of the USDA Organic Seal is optional.

Organic

  • Product must be made with at least 95% organically produced ingredients.

  • Remainder can consist of ingredients that are on the USDA’s National List of Allowed Substances so long as they meet certain other criteria, including not GMO.

  • The label may also state the percentage of organic ingredients.

  • The name of the certifying agent must appear on packages.

  • Use of the USDA Organic Seal is optional.

Made with Organic Ingredients

  • Product must contain at least 70% organic ingredients.

  • Remainder can consist of ingredients that are on the USDA’s National List of Allowed Substances so long as they meet certain other criteria, including not GMO.

  • Product may display the term “Made With Organic...” and then list up to three of the product's organic ingredients or types of food. (For example: “Made with organic dates, raisins and apricots” or “Made with organic grains, nuts and berries.”) The label may also state the percentage of organic ingredients.

  • The name of the certifying agent must appear on packages.

  • Use of the USDA Organic Seal is prohibited.

Specific Organic Ingredients

In addition to products that fall under one of the three regulated organic label claims above, there are products that include one or more organic ingredients in their ingredient list. While they’re not allowed to use the USDA Organic Seal or say “organic” on their front label, any ingredient called “organic” must be certified.

For more information on organic labeling, check out the USDA Organic Labeling Fact Sheet.

organic beauty and body care products

Organic Labels for Beauty and Body Care Products

There are no mandatory government standards for organic label claims on beauty and body care products. This is because they fall under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), not the USDA. Whether you’re looking for organic shampoo or organic lip balm, we believe shopping for these products should be easy and stress-free. That’s why we’ve created our own standards for the products in our aisles:

  • Personal care products making an organic claim on the front label must be third-party certified to either the USDA National Organic Standards or the NSF/ANSI 305 Organic Personal Care Products standard.

  • If the product does not have certification to one of the above standards, the product cannot have an organic claim on the front label of the packaging.

  • Products labeled “organic” are required to contain at least 95% organic ingredients and be certified to the USDA National Organic Standards.

  • Products labeled “made with organic X” must be certified to the USDA National Organic Standards and include at least 70% organic ingredients.

  • Products labeled “contains organic X” must be at least 70% organic and certified to NSF/ANSI 305, a consensus-based private standard for organic personal care products.

Now, you’re ready to explore the aisles at your Whole Foods Market store. With 22,000 organic products and counting across our stores, it’s safe to say that we have organics in more shapes, sizes and aisles.

*Applies to U.S. Whole Foods Market stores only.

Explore More