The specific process to certify food organic will differ depending on the type of product under consideration. Produce and any foods that are grown for sale are judged based on farming techniques, whereas processed foods are judged based on their ingredients (which are then judged as grown produce).

So for the most part, it all comes down to how foods are grown and what a farmer uses during that growing period. Organic certification is regulated by the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), and once a farm has gained that recognition, they are able to label their produce as organic.

Though it is a federally-regulated program, individual farms work towards their certification with approved local agencies that operate within their state. The daily operations of the farm are investigated, and paperwork must be provided to prove that only organic products have been used during the growing and harvesting of the produce. Three years of records will have to be provided. Though the regulations are fairly specific and in-depth, they can be summarized as:

“Organic crops are raised without using most conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Animals raised on an organic operation must be fed organic feed and given access to the outdoors. They are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.”

So that is what farmers have to do in order to legally sell organic fruits, vegetables and meat or dairy products. Any manufacturer who is making a processed food then needs to use these certified organic ingredients in their products but there are some variations allowed.

A product that is completely organic can call itself 100% organic and be labelled with the USDA organic seal. But a product that has up to 5% non-organic ingredients is still permitted to call itself simply “organic” along with the seal. Anything with 70% to 94% organic materials can say it is made with organic ingredients but cannot be labelled with the official seal. These food manufacturing companies have to undergo the same inspections and paperwork in order to prove their ingredients are sourced from certified organic operations.

Food companies and farmers are required to renew their certification each year, so paperwork must be kept diligently in order to stay legally certified.