Third party certification is a distinguishing feature of organic certification. It is one of the requirements that make the USDA Certified Organic seal trustworthy.
Third party certification is an independent review and assessment of a system to determine if it meets standards. This means that an organization or company is not just claiming to comply with the standards, they have an external, third party verify the truth of that claim.
Many industries use third party certification. Housing inspectors verify that a home is up to code before it is sold. Glass manufacturing, metallurgy, mechanical and instrument design, pipeline welding and many other industrial applications use technical third party certification.
In organic certification, it means that the farm or food processor that claims to be organic has been inspected and confirmed. The product label may then include the name of the third party that verified the organic status.
Certified Organic farmers and manufacturers are required to submit an Organic System Plan (OSP) that describes their operations to a third party. The organic third party, an Accredited Certification Agency (ACA), will send an inspector to observe the operation and record their findings to determine if the OSP describes their operation accurately. The ACA determines compliance based on the record of findings from the third party inspection and the OSP. This occurs annually when an application for (re-) certification is submitted. The third party has no financial interest or benefit from the claim, making the third party determination of compliance independent and free from conflict of interest.
For organic farms, the third party inspector visits the farm and inspects the entire operation from field maps for crops and rotations right down to receipts for seeds. All farm inputs and management strategies for pests and plant health are substantiated with records.
For organic products, it means that the ACA has reviewed the organic certificates for every ingredient, reviewed and approved the product label and inspected the place where it is produced. This includes storage, handling, and preparation areas and processes, pest management, and cleaning and sanitizing products and procedures.
For the Wedge, it means that our ACA, the Midwest Organic Services Association (MOSA), visits the store annually. They talk to staff from every department to verify their knowledge and the application of our OSP, or the Handling Plan as we call it (we are certified organic handlers). They inspect our entire building and our receipts for organic ingredients and products. They review all the signs, labels, and the areas where we produce our certified organic foods. They verify where and how we keep our organic items separated from conventional, our cleaning, sanitizing and handling procedures and how we substantiate all this with records.
Third party certification is a great way to introduce ourselves to new and prospective Co-op members. It provide extra assurance that we are who we say we are and that someone else, MOSA, lets us use their name on our labels because they can vouch for the truth of what we say about our products. It says that we follow specific rules in the back room as well as the sales floor. It says that the entire staff understands and can tell you what is relevant about being organic in their department.
So when people ask you why you shop at the Wedge you can say because the Wedge is Certified Organic. That is shorthand for a lot of information and easier to say than repeating the above. And feel free to drop the name of our certifier, MOSA, they'll vouch for us.