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Whole Foods Market: 20 Years of Organic Certification in Their Stores

by Rachel Witte |

Twenty years ago, one year after the USDA National Organic Standards were enacted, CCOF member Whole Foods Market became the first ever certified organic national retailer. Doing so made Whole Foods a trailblazer in organic retail, setting the stage for other retailers—large and small—to follow.  

“We are incredibly proud to certify Whole Foods Market, a leader and longtime steward of the organic movement,” says CCOF CEO Kelly Damewood. “Whole Foods Market not only cares deeply about maintaining the trust of its customers through organic certification but also continues to invest back into the organic movement through its relationships with local organic producers and their generous donations to funds like the CCOF Foundation.”  

Retail stores are not required to be certified organic, so for a store to get certified, it showcases the extra effort they are putting toward ensuring the organic integrity of their products. In 2003, Whole Foods formalized this commitment by deciding their stores should meet the same requirements as organic processing facilities. This ensures that organic products in the store stay organic from when they leave the farm until they’re added to a shopping cart.  

Today, all of Whole Foods’ 500+ stores are certified organic by CCOF. We verify that organic products in the store’s departments are handled in a way that maintains organic integrity according to the USDA National Organic Program standards. Every year, we visit each and every one of their stores on an inspection to make sure these standards are being followed. Among other requirements, inspectors make sure stores:  

  • Have accurate signs and organic claims  
  • Document their sources of organic products 
  • Prevent organic food from being contaminated with any materials used to clean organic food or surfaces they may come in contact with  
  • Aren’t mixing organic and non-organic products on display and in storage, or allowing them to touch each other 

CCOF’s inspectors look at unpackaged products like produce, bulk foods, meat, and specialty cheeses, and make sure documentation is correct for any other unpackaged organic products being handled in the store. Whole Foods carries over 20,000 organic products across its fleet of stores, so you can imagine the vast scope of their organic certification. 

“We are proud to certify Whole Foods Market. It’s an honor to work alongside their dedicated team,” says Ellie Downing Whisner, CCOF’s senior retail/restaurant technical specialist. “Together, we help ensure high quality organic foods make their way to many homes.” 

If this sounds like a lot of work for Whole Foods, that’s because it is! But we agree with Whole Foods that organic integrity is worth the extra effort.  

Join us in congratulating Whole Foods on 20 years of dedication to organic. Thank you to Whole Foods for trusting us to certify their stores.