FDA Organic Standards: Regulations in the F&B Sector

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Introduction: Navigating the Organic Landscape in Food and Beverage

The consumption of organic food and beverages has significantly risen, driven by consumers’ increasing desire for healthier living and natural ingredients. This trend underscores the importance of transparent and accurate labeling, as consumers seek brands that provide clarity about their products’ origins and contents. Adhering to the FDA’s organic regulations is crucial for companies in the food and beverage sector as it builds consumer trust and ensures product integrity from the start. This article will provide a comprehensive guide on the FDA’s organic regulations, explaining the different organic labels and their significance, and highlighting why compliance is essential for brand integrity and consumer trust. Diving into the F&B industry can be overwhelming, but with the right knowledge, even those without prior experience can navigate these waters with confidence.


  • The popularity of organic food and beverages is on the rise, emphasizing the need for clear and accurate labeling to build consumer trust.
  • Understanding FDA organic standards and regulations is crucial, especially for newcomers in the F&B industry.
  • The FDA sets specific standards for organic labeling, while the USDA oversees organic certification, and knowing the difference is key.
  • Achieving organic certification involves a comprehensive process, including developing an organic system plan, implementing organic practices, and undergoing inspections.
  • Common challenges in the certification process include misunderstanding organic standards and inadequate record-keeping, but these can be navigated with diligence and proper guidance.
  • For those short on time or expertise in creating compliant labels, seeking professional help or using label-generating tools can offer efficient solutions.
  • Third-party certifying agents play a vital role in guiding businesses through the organic certification process, ensuring compliance, and building consumer trust.

What Does ‘Organic’ Really Mean?

When it comes to labeling food and beverages as organic, the FDA has set specific standards and definitions to guide producers and inform consumers.

  • 100% Organic: This label is reserved for products that are made entirely with certified organic ingredients and methods.
  • Organic: Products labeled as “Organic” must consist of at least 95% certified organic ingredients, with the remaining 5% non-organic ingredients approved by the FDA.
  • Made with Organic Ingredients: This label is used for products that contain at least 70% certified organic ingredients, with the remaining 30% non-organic ingredients adhering to FDA regulations.
  • Specific Organic Ingredients: For products with less than 70% certified organic content, they cannot use the term “organic” on the principal display panel but can identify specific ingredients that are USDA-certified organic in the ingredient list.

Understanding these distinctions is crucial for both producers and consumers, as it ensures that the products are being accurately represented and that consumers are making informed choices based on their preferences and values. For those new to the F&B industry, grasping these nuances is the first step toward creating compliant and trustworthy products. Adhering to the FDA’s organic standards and regulations is not just a legal requirement but also a commitment to transparency, quality, and consumer trust.

USDA vs. FDA: Who Oversees What?

A common misconception in the realm of organic food regulation is the roles of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While both federal agencies play crucial roles in ensuring food safety and accuracy in labeling, their responsibilities differ, especially when it comes to organic products.

The USDA ensures that products in the meat, poultry, and egg industries are safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged. Additionally, its National Organic Program (NOP) sets the standards for organic agriculture by overseeing the organic certification of farms and businesses. 

On the other hand, the FDA is responsible for regulating the labeling of packaged food and beverages, including organic products. They also regulate pharmaceutical drugs, dietary supplements, and animal food. The FDA ensures that labels on all processed food are truthful and not misleading, safeguarding consumers and helping them make informed choices. While the FDA does not have a specific organic certification program, it works in tandem with the USDA to ensure that organic claims made on food labels are accurate and verifiable. 

Understanding the distinct roles of these two agencies is crucial for businesses navigating the food industry, ensuring compliance with regulations, and building trust with consumers. The USDA sets the standards and certifies organic products, while the FDA ensures that the labels on processed food, including organic products, are truthful and not misleading.

Key FDA Regulations for Organic Labeling

While the USDA is at the forefront of organic certification, the FDA also contributes to the regulation of food product labeling, including organic items. The FDA’s involvement ensures that all food products, regardless of their organic status, meet the necessary labeling requirements, providing clear and accurate information to consumers. Here’s a breakdown of some of the key rules:

  • Principal Display Panel Rules: This is the section of the product that consumers are most likely to see at the time of purchase. For organic products, any organic claims made on this panel must comply with the USDA’s NOP standards.
  • Information Panel Requirements: The information panel is typically found on the side or back of a product and includes the nutrition facts label and ingredient list. For organic products, it is imperative that all organic ingredients are clearly identified, and the certifying agent’s name is displayed, further ensuring transparency and traceability.
  • Use of the USDA Organic Seal: The USDA organic seal is a specific logo that indicates a product has been certified organic by the USDA. The FDA requires that any use of this seal on a product’s labeling must comply with the USDA’s NOP standards. Products labeled as “100% Organic” or “Organic” (with at least 95% organic ingredients) are eligible to display the seal, while products labeled as “Made with Organic Ingredients” are not.
  • Recordkeeping and Prohibited Practices: Organic producers and handlers are required to meticulously maintain records detailing the production, harvesting, and handling of products labeled as organic or “made with organic ingredients.” Additionally, they must adhere to NOP standards, which explicitly prohibit certain agricultural practices, including the use of synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering.

By adhering to these regulations, brands not only ensure compliance with legal requirements but also contribute to building consumer trust in organic products. The collaborative efforts of the USDA and FDA in regulating organic labeling underscore the commitment to maintaining the integrity of organic products, fostering a transparent and trustworthy marketplace for consumers.

The Process: Getting Certified as Organic

Embarking on the journey to achieve organic certification is a commendable decision that underscores a brand’s commitment to quality and transparency. The process, while thorough, is straightforward, and it plays a crucial role in building consumer trust.

  1. Developing an Organic System Plan: The first step towards certification is developing a comprehensive organic system plan. This plan should detail every aspect of the farming or processing operation, from the source of the seeds to the methods used in cultivation, and from the handling of the products to the prevention of contamination with prohibited substances.
  1. Implementing Organic Practices: Once the plan is in place, the next step is to implement the organic practices and procedures outlined in the plan. This might involve transitioning from conventional to organic farming methods, sourcing organic ingredients, or changing processing practices. 
  1. Undergoing an Inspection: After implementing organic practices, the operation must undergo an inspection conducted by a USDA-accredited certifying agent. The inspector will review the organic system plan, inspect the operation’s facilities, and ensure that the practices comply with USDA organic regulations.
  1. Obtaining Certification: If the inspection is successful and the operation is found to be in compliance with USDA organic standards, the certifying agent will grant organic certification. This certification is valid for one year and must be renewed through a recertification process, which includes an annual inspection.
  1. Maintaining Compliance: After certification, the operation must maintain compliance with USDA organic standards and undergo regular annual inspections to ensure ongoing compliance.

The role of third-party certifying agents in this process is paramount. These agents are accredited by the USDA and are responsible for ensuring that organic operations follow USDA organic standards. They play a critical role in maintaining the integrity of the organic certification process and helping to build consumer trust in organic products. 

Common Pitfalls and Areas of Confusion

Navigating the world of organic certification can be complex, and there are common pitfalls and areas of confusion that brands should be aware of to ensure a smooth certification process.

Misunderstanding Organic Standards

Challenge: One of the most common challenges is a misunderstanding of what qualifies as organic. 

How to Prevent This: Brands must familiarize themselves with the USDA’s and FDA organic standards to ensure that their practices and products comply.

Inadequate Record Keeping

Challenge: Proper record-keeping is crucial in the organic certification process. 

Solution: Brands must maintain detailed records of their practices, inputs, and products to demonstrate compliance during inspections.


Challenge: For operations that handle both organic and non-organic products, preventing cross-contamination is essential. 

Solution: Brands must implement practices to prevent the mingling of organic and non-organic products and ensure that organic products are not contaminated with prohibited substances.

Reliance on Non-Certified Suppliers

Challenge: Brands may jeopardize their organic integrity and certification by inadvertently sourcing from non-certified suppliers due to various challenges such as availability or cost.

Solution: Brands should enforce a stringent supplier verification process, educate their procurement teams, establish strong relationships with certified suppliers, and have contingency plans in place.
Addressing these challenges requires diligence, attention to detail, and a deep understanding of FDA and USDA organic standards. Brands can avoid these pitfalls by investing in education, implementing robust internal controls, and working closely with their certifying agents to ensure ongoing compliance. For businesses short on time or expertise in navigating FDA organic standards, leveraging label-generating tools like Food Label Maker could also provide a quick and reliable solution, ensuring compliant labels and reinforcing consumer trust.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, navigating the intricate world of FDA organic standards and regulations is crucial for brands in the food and beverage sector aiming to build trust and maintain transparency with their consumers. We have dissected the definitions and classifications of organic labeling, clarified the distinct roles of USDA and FDA in organic regulation, and outlined the comprehensive steps required for obtaining organic certification. Brands that prioritize adherence to these standards and commit to transparent practices are setting themselves up for success, fostering consumer belief, and contributing to the integrity and growth of the organic product market.