AUSTIN, Texas — Whole Foods Market has announced that each of its 273 U.S. stores has been individually certified organic by CCOF, a non-profit, U.S. Department of Agriculture-accredited third-party certifier established in 1973.
Whole Foods became the first national chain to be certified organic under the USDA's “group certification” standards in 2003. Under these rules, certifiers inspected a limited number of a retail chain's stores, along with a chain's headquarter-level plans for monitoring and compliance. However, in November 2008, the USDA's National Organic Program announced that it would make retail certification a more rigorous process, and that it would no longer allow group certification.
“This program is such an important part of Whole Foods Market's commitment to organic integrity,” Margaret Wittenberg, vice president of quality standards and public affairs for Whole Foods Market, said in a release explaining the move.
Under this program, CCOF verifies that Whole Foods Market examines the current organic certification status of all organic products; maintains a record-keeping process that demonstrates an audit trail for organic products; ensures organic products are appropriately protected from commingling with conventional products and contamination with prohibited materials; and trains store Team Members in handling practices for organic products, according to the announcement.