The Co-op had its annual organic inspection with California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) in early November. It was our thirteenth year going through this process! Here at the Co-op, we are committed to maintaining and ensuring the organic integrity of products – starting from when they are received from our vendors until they get to the registers and ultimately as they leave with our shoppers.
All our employees sign affidavits after they have read and understand what the definition of certified organic means. Staff that handle certified organic product also receive extra training within their department to maintain the integrity of products. This means that organic products do not comingle with conventional products when displayed out on the retail floor and when they are stored in backstock. On the retail floor in the bulk department, organic items are always placed over conventional items so that if there is any spillover, the conventional items are not falling into bins that contain organic product. In produce, in the rare cases when we carry conventional products, certified organic items are displayed either apart from conventional produce, or with a physical barrier separating the items.
Once a year, CCOF representatives visit both of our store locations and verify that we are compliant with their standards. The inspector works with the Merchandising Manager to verify that we have current documents for all vendors that are certified organic. These documents include a certificate from the third-party certifier and their Organic System Plan (OSP), both of which must bear a date from within one last inspection. There are many certifiers that a vendor can select from, including, but not limited to CCOF, Quality Assurance International (QAI), Organic Certifiers, or Oregon Tilth. After the inspector has looked at the documentation, it’s time to visit the departments to observe practices and ask questions of staff. The inspector is making sure that employees understand and can demonstrate the organic handling practices within their department.
Another step in the inspection is to do an audit trail/mass balance comparison. This entails looking at invoices to determine a baseline of how much product was purchased within a certain timeframe, and then comparing it to the actual sales of that product. The items selected for the audit must have both an organic and conventional option and the audit looks at items from two different departments. The inspector is checking to make sure that the quantity of organic sales does not exceed what we have purchased. This is to ensure that we are not purchasing a conventional product and then reselling it as organic. As the years have progressed, it has been more difficult to select a conventional product in produce as we have very few items that are not certified organic! This year, Singing Dog Vanilla in the bulk department and tomatoes in the produce department were used. Some of our local farmers are not certified organic, even though they follow organic practices on their farm. These are some of the products that are displayed with a physical barrier between our certified organic items, or on a separate display.
After the inspectors gather all the pertinent information, they send a report to CCOF. If there are questions, or more documentation is necessary, we are asked to send this in before CCOF will renew our certification. The Co-op has met all the requirements for recertification and addressed follow-up questions and will have received our organic certification renewal by the time you read this.
Although this process takes time and money, we want to assure our members and shoppers that we are maintaining the integrity of organic product from when we take possession of it, until it leaves our store. For more information about CCOF, you can visit their website www.CCOF.org.