What Goes Into a Certified Organic Grocery Store?

We’re serious about organic. So serious, in fact, that Whole Foods Market is the first and only certified organic national grocery store. That means we do more work to make sure the organic food you buy from us is organic from farm to store. We meet hundreds of requirements, from checking ingredient sources to how we prep food in our kitchen. It’s not an easy task, but it’s worth it. When you pick out that juicy organic Bosc pear or sunny organic lemon, you know you’re putting the best in your basket.

How it’s sourced.

Organic integrity starts with our buyers finding the best organic suppliers possible, ones who are committed to organic farming practices and best-in-class produce. Our field team members inspect the quality and condition of all the produce we source (got to taste test, right?). 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. Take Rainier Fruits, a Washington-based apple supplier: Whole Foods Market has been working with them for over 15 years to maintain organic integrity of that Honeycrisp apple in your cart, from bud to fruit to warehouse to shelf.

How it’s grown.

Achieving organic certification begins long before the first growing season: A supplier’s land must be managed organically without the use of prohibited substances for at least three years before harvesting organic crops. Many fertilizers, pesticides and other substances are prohibited in organic farming.

Says Harold Austin, Director of Orchard Administration at Rainier Fruit, “Maintaining a consistent apple crop each year is a challenge when you have few tools available due to USDA’s organic requirements — you have to be ready for pests like bugs, weeds and other instances beyond the ability of your skills to control. We can’t always have that picture-perfect crop like conventional can. At the same time, it also challenges us to constantly understand what we can do better.”

How it’s handled and stored.

“An organic certifier looks at how we label our organic fruit in the field and when we send it to our warehouse for storage after it’s harvested,” explains Austin. “They also look at our bins and containers where we harvest the apples to make sure that they are properly labeled as organic.” If a supplier grows non-organic produce, too, it’s grown in a different area so organic is picked separately. And it’s not enough for a supplier or a store to get an organic certification once — they undergo an extensive inspection once a year by an organic certifier to ensure they are still following the USDA’s organic standards.

How it stays organic in-store.

For Whole Foods Market, organic doesn’t stop at the supplier level. Our expert team members receive special training on what maintaining our organic certification in-store requires. Just a few of the many things they do: stock the produce in a way that organic and conventional produce don’t comingle; thoroughly clean equipment used to cut meat and cheese between each order and when a sanitizer is used, make sure any residue is completely removed; and use dedicated cutting surfaces and tools for organic foods when prepping food in the kitchen.

The USDA National Organic Program doesn’t require an organic certification for retailers who sell organic products, but we go the extra mile to have our stores certified. Being a certified organic national retailer is a huge commitment, but it’s at the heart of who we are and what we believe in: selling the highest-quality natural and organic foods.

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