Organic Food

Welcome to the Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia's food preparation orientation page. Preparing organic food includes all post-harvest handling activities, manufacturing, processing, preserving, and any type of treatment including packaging and labeling, and even slaughter. This resource should help you find the tools you need to navigate organic certification, develop your organic business and maintain the organic integrity of your organic product.

What are organic prepared products?

In Canada the federal Organic Products Regulations (OPR) applies to agricultural unprocessed or processed goods used as human food, livestock feed and seed moved across provincial and international borders and/or bearing the Canada Organic logo. Aquacultural animals and plants, and their associated products consumed as human food or livestock feed will be added into the scope of the OPR sometime in the fall of 2015.

Personal body care products, pet food, textiles, drugs, and natural health products fall outside the scope of the OPR as the empowering Act is food specific. Currently the OPR is under the Canada Agricultural Products Act, but is in the process of incorporation under the Safe Foods for Canadians Act. Click here for more background information on the OPR and the Canadian Organic Regime (COR) and the Canadian Organic Standards (COS).

There are no restrictions on the type of products that could be certified under the British Columbia Certified Organic Program (BCCOP) for sale within the province, if the Certification Body (CB) developed appropriate standards and had the expertise. Currently all the BCCOP accredited CBs reference the Canadian Organic Standards (COS). Click here for more information on the British Columbia Certified Organic Program (BCCOP).

Organic products should comply with all applicable regulatory requirements.

What is the demand for organic prepared products?

The value of the Canadian organic food market has more than tripled since 2006, making organics the fastest growing part of the agri-food sector. Predictions are that the organic market will continue its steady growth, gaining 10% more in sales per year. This positive forecast comes from strong consumer demand for organic products, which is growing and diversifying - millennials and young families are higher than average buyers of organic, but people in older demographics are buying too. There is no longer one typical type of organic consumer.

The highest value sales categories for organic products continue to be fresh produce and dairy, but as Canadians add more organic products to their grocery baskets there is a growing demand for prepared products, particularly for young families and busy individuals where convenience is a priority. Consumer surveys indicate Canadians intend to keep buying organic produce and prepared products, and to increase their purchases of organic meat, poultry and dairy products. There are also growth opportunities for products catered to the ethnic market - 67% of those who identified as non-Caucasian ethnicity purchased organic groceries weekly, higher than Caucasian Canadians.

BC continues to be Canada's strongest organic market with 66% of consumers buying organic groceries every week; Vancouver has the highest concentration of organic buyers in the country! Excellent market opportunities are also emerging in other provinces - Ontario has the largest organic consumer market and Alberta has the fastest growing organic sales.

Research has shown the most influential food claims are 'Made in Canada', 'Local' and 'Canada Organic'. This creates a strong market opportunity for Canadian companies who can offer organic prepared products.

Acceptable product claims

There are three types of acceptable multi-ingredient organic claims in Canada:

  • Organic (95-100% organic content): Products labeled "organic" "organically grown", "organically raised", "organically produced", or similar words, abbreviations of, symbols for and phonetic renderings of these word, must contain at least 95% organic ingredients and the balance composed of acceptable non-organic ingredients and processing aids. "Organic" or any variations thereof may be presented in the product common name. The ingredient list must identify which ingredients are organic versus those that are not. Certifier identification on the label is also necessary. "x% organic ingredients" statements are permitted.
  • Containing x% organic ingredients (70-<95% organic content): Products with only 70-<95% organic ingredients may declare the percentage in a "contains x% organic ingredient" statement. The label must contain an ingredient list that identifies the organic, as well as the non-organic ingredients in the product, along with the name of the organic certifier.
  • Ingredient panel claim (<70% organic content): If a product contains less than 70% organic ingredients, the product can make an ingredient panel only claim, for the individual organic ingredients in the ingredient panel. These products cannot use the word "organic" on the principal display panel or display any certifier seals. Manufacturers do not need to apply for certification for products containing less than 70% organic content.

Other relevant organic labeling information

  • Organic ingredients must not appear more prominent than non-organic ingredients in ingredient lists on labels.
  • The phrase 'certified organic' may only be used when immediately followed by the name of the CB (e.g. certified organic by XXX).
  • If labeling individual pieces of fresh fruit and vegetable, wrapped or unwrapped, follow the labelling requirements for (95%-100%) organic products.
  • For non-retail packaged goods (e.g. 25 kg. of flour, 5 lbs coffee, etc.) packaging must state the following: the common name of the product (e.g. coffee); the product status (e.g. organic), the name and address of the person or organization responsible for the production, preparation or distribution of the product if they are certified; and information that ensures traceability of the product, such as a lot number.
  • Organic claims must be in both official languages. For exceptions refer to Food and Drug Regulations: B.01.012 (3), (7), (11).

Labeling requirements for other jurisdictions:

Organic product labels must meet the requirements of the selling marketplace.

Additional Canadian labeling resources:

Logo options

Click here to review your logo options
Click here for How to Use the British Columbia Certified Organic Program's Official Marks

The certification path for preparation operators

The certification application process is identical for all preparation operations, no matter the CB. The initial inspection round can be a little cumbersome until all compliance matters are resolved and certification documentation (anchor needed to - What is the difference between a Certificate and an Attestation of compliance?) is issued. A brief visual overview of the process is provided here. For more detailed instructions please contact the CB of your choice. Please note that COABC itself is not a CB, it accredits CBs.

Frequently Asked Questions regarding the certification process

Selecting a Certification Body (CB)

For products traded exclusively within BC, consider any number of COABC regionally accredited certifiers.

To access markets outside of BC, a COR accredited certification body is required:

A service comparison chart for COABC CBs

What Is the Difference between COABC's Regional And COR Certification Bodies?
Both types of agencies can certify products to the British Columbia Certified Organic Program (BCCOP) while COR agencies can also certify to the Canada Organic Regime (COR) thus allowing the certified organic product to be shipped out of the province. BCCOP Certified Organic products can display the BCCOP checkmark on approved labels, while COR certified products can also use the Canada Organic Regime logo. Click here to review these logo options.

Frequently Asked Questions regarding the certification process.

Canadian Organic Standards

The certification standards for organic food, feed or seed sold or used in Canada are contained in two separate documents:

How to read the standard?
Reading the principles and management standards in CAN/CGSB 32.310 is pivotal to understanding the permitted substances lists (PSL) CAN/CGSB 32.311.The PSL cannot be read independent of the principles and management standards.

If producing exclusively for an export market, talk to your CB about the regulations in the countries to which you are exporting.

How to interpret the Standards and answers to other questions

The most important step in understanding the standards is to read them, and to keep referring to them. Be sure to discuss them with organic colleagues, attend workshops, seminars and webinars, and ask your CB for clarification. It is also vital to remember that the Permitted Substances Lists cannot be read independently of the CAN/CGSB 32.310. The PSL arises from the Principles and Standards, not the other way around.

The Standards Interpretation Committee (SIC)
The standards are living documents. When there are ambiguities, or contradictions, the Standard Interpretation Committee (SIC) can develop interpretations to help the sector function until the next full review. Full reviews are to be held every five years. The next full review will be in 2020. The SIC cannot change the requirements in the standard; they can only clarify the intent of the requirements. Click here for Terms of Reference for the SIC.

  1. SIC Q&As. Binding interpretations for a diversity of topics. These interpretations must be adhered to until further notice.
  2. SIC Q&As under Comment Period. There is a 60 day comment period for newly proposed SIC Questions and Answers. The CANReg Listserv, a cross country information sharing service, provides notifications of new comment periods.
  3. Guidelines on how to submit a question to the SIC and get an answer.

Answers to other questions ... by the COABC Accreditation Board (AB)
Part of the function of the AB is to respond to questions presented by its accredited CBs with regards to standards, labelling, and the certification process. Click here to read the AB's answers to a variety of questions.

Click here for frequently asked questions on general certification process.

The difference between the Permitted Substances Lists and brand name products

One of the most challenging tasks in organic certification is determining whether or not a commercial brand name product is allowed. The CAN/CGSB 32.311 Permitted Substances Lists (PSL) only identifies generic substances that can be used with or without restrictions. At this time neither Canada nor the USA have a unified national brand name directory, making it difficult to readily know if a brand name input or ingredient is okay to use.

Some ISO 17065 Accredited Certification Bodies (CBs) maintain their own brand name product databases indicating whether or not an input is acceptable - be sure to ask your certification body if they maintain one. There are some third ISO 17965 Accredited party lists that operators may use as references, but your CB is your final authority. Using non-permitted substances and input products will jeopardize your ability to certify your product.

Currently most CB brand name listings are relevant to crop and livestock operations, not food preparation operations. Fortunately most main stream suppliers have either already branched into organics, or would be willing to if asked to continue servicing your needs.

Most food preparation operations will need to work closely with their CB to assure compliance of all organic and non-organic ingredients, processing aids and cleaning products. Sometimes it is challenging to obtain sufficient details from suppliers since they consider it competitive information and may be unwilling to share the necessary details.

Ingredient supplier and service directories

The Organic Trade Association's (OTA) provides The Organic Pages Online as a resource directory that preparation operations may find helpful. But just like other 'lists' the OTA reminds directory users to confirm compliance of all supplies before completing any transaction.

The directory works in a similar fashion.

Current third party brand name resources

Preparation operators seeking inputs may find some of what they are looking for in some of the following lists. Keep in mind, your CB is the final authority and be sure to check with your CB, before using such inputs, even if a product is approved by another ISO 17065 Accredited CB.

OMRI Canada Products List. Please note as of March 2015 there are only a handful of products currently listed relevant to preparation activities.

Pro-Cert Approved Brand Name Input Substances Directory and Lists. Please note as of March 2015 none of the products currently listed are relevant to preparation activities.

Other brand name input lists

The following are compilations of products reviewed by various CBs or institutions, and could help you identify compliant inputs of interest. These lists also need to be used with caution, especially as most references to OMRI reflect inputs compliant to the USDA Organic Program. Therefore continue to practice due diligence and always check with your CB. And similar to the previous brand name lists there are very few listings relevant to preparation activities.

ACORN's Directory of Organic Inputs (July 2012)

The Centre D'expertise et de Transfert en Agriculture Biologique et de Proximité of Québec's Brand Name List.

Organic Federation of Canada's Canadian Directory of Brand Name Inputs Allowed in Organic Agriculture.

Supply chain challenges

The demand for organic products has increased substantially over the last decade and market research confirms that consumer demand will continue its steady climb. However, expansion of organic agricultural production in Canada and elsewhere is not keeping apace with demand. This lack, along with navigating the ever-changing phytosanitary and import requirements for regulated fresh produce can create serious supply challenges as more processors look to source more organic ingredients.

The shortage of certified organic ingredients is most acute for those sourcing products where imports are limited, including dairy products, eggs and meat. Shortages of grain and other proteins can happen as well. Factors such as pricing, acres planted, herd size, weather, yields and global conditions can all affect supply. However, there are strategies some organic processors are successfully using to secure a dependable supply of organic ingredients, meet growing consumer demand, and protect product quality. There are also many opportunities to re-build historical food processing capacity to supply the market with local, organic foods.

Key strategies for building a dependable organic supply chain

  • Strong relationships: Good relationships with suppliers are key to success in any business, but even more important when you are sourcing organic ingredients. Building strong relationship with your suppliers will help ensure they will give you advance notice of any potential for supply shortages and put extra effort into finding supply for you if challenges arise.
  • Match your scale: Small-scale processors may not be able to access organic commodities from large brokers who prefer selling to larger scale manufacturers. Conversely small-scale organic growers may have supply that large brokers are not accessing. Connecting with organic growers that match your scale helps to ensure access to organic ingredients and build a more traceable, transparent supply chain.
  • Time it right: Shortages of grains and proteins follow annual cycles. Typically they become scarce in the two months prior to harvest. Processors can time their buying and production cycles to avoid shortage periods as much as possible. If you need animal protein, it is very important to plan well in advance and build a good relationship. Often more than one supplier is needed because of quota limits and production capacity constraints.
  • Plan for the best, but be prepared for the worst: Having a primary supplier for your main organic ingredients is a good plan, but having a relationship with secondary and back-up suppliers, whose certifications you have already reviewed and products you have already tested for quality, will give you more options for accessing supply on short notice.
  • Consider flexibility of inputs during product development: Building a more resilient supply chain can start in the product development phase. Testing how variations of ingredients perform in your manufacturing process can give you greater flexibility by allowing a greater range of inputs to be sourced.
  • Start small: If you are concerned that you will not be able to source all of your inputs as organic you can still begin the path towards a fully organic certified product and communicate this to your customers. Click HERE for more information on acceptable product claims.
  • Invest in the future of organic: With market demand for organic products growing steadily, the key is to grow supply. Talk with your suppliers about their challenges. Consider how your company may be able to work in direct partnerships with organic farmers, support the purchase of organic land and livestock, or assist with transition costs. The end result is a benefit to all: a more secure supply of organic ingredients and an expanding organic sector.

Post harvesting handling procedures

Post harvest handling begins as soon as a crop is harvested and involves in-field and post field cooling, cleaning, sorting and packing. The reason it is critical is because as soon as a crop is picked it begins to deteriorate. It is only with good post harvest handling procedures that growers can deliver a quality product to market. Good post harvest handling procedures on-farm and past the gate posts will also help ensure food safety. Good post harvest handling will also reduce losses. For these reasons operators should strive for the very best post harvest handling practices as investing in them now may lead to increased profits in the future.

Postharvest handling

Postharvest handling for organic crops (UCD)
Handling and Cooling Techniques for Maintaining Postharvest Quality (UoF)
Cool Produce - Cooling Options for Market Gardens (TCOG)
Pre-cooling of Agricultural Products (energypedia)
Precooling Colorado Crops (CSU)
Recommendations for Maintaining Postharvest Quality (UCD)
Properties and Recommended Conditions for the Long Term Storage of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables (UCD)
Compatibility Chart for Short-term Transport or Storage (UCD)
Vegetable Inspection Manuals (CFIA)

On-Farm Food Safety

Water Quality is covered extensively on Cyber-Help's On-Farm Food Safety page.

For operators selling within British Columbia only and if your buyers are not asking for third party verification, the best place to start is with the BC Ministry of Agriculture's BC Good Agricultural Practices Guide.

Those selling fresh produce requiring third party certification will need CanadaGap certification.

Grain producers should refer to ExcelGrains Canada a voluntary initiative of the Canadian Grains Council.

The Canadian Cattlemen Association offers the Verified Beef Production (VBP) program.

Egg producers will be engaged in the Start Clean Stay Clean (SCSC) on-farm food safety program managed by the provincial egg boards in partnership with Egg Farmers of Canada the federal agency that oversees egg sector.

Pork producers can access the Canadian Quality Assurance (CQA) program directed by the Canadian Pork Council.

Safe, Safer, Safest is the on-farm food safety program required by Chicken Farmers of Canada

Dairy Farmers of Canada oversees the Canadian Quality Milk (CQM) on-farm food safety program for their producers.

The Good Agriculture and Collection Practices (GACP) program offered by the Saskatchewan Herb and Spice Association deals with safety, quality assurance and traceability for the Canadian Herb, Spice and Natural Health Products.

The Bridging the GAPs FARM GUIDE - Good Agricultural Practices and On-Farm Food Safety for Small, Mid-Sized, and Diversified Fruit and Vegetable Farms (WSDA)

Commodity Specific Food Safety Guidelines for the Production and Harvest of Lettuce and Leafy Greens (Arizona)

Post Farm Food Safety

Food Safety at Farmers Markets and Agritourism Venues - A Primer for California Operators
FoodSafe / Market Safe: makes good food better.
Home Study Course in Food Safety. Alberta Health Services
Food Safety Matters - A manual for farmers' market Vendors, manager and staff. Farmers' Markets Ontario
Guidelines for the Sale of Foods at Temporary Food Markets. BC Centre for Disease Control

Food Safety for Processors

The easiest places to find applicable information relevant to processor food safety is through the Small Scale Food Processor Associations' Food Safety Planning Portal for Food Processors

Import requirements

The federal government oversees the imports of food products into Canada, for a range of reasons, for example: to limit pest introductions, to restrict pesticide residues contained in food consumed by Canadians, to protect Canadian consumers from food-borne pathogens and to assure labels for imported products display sufficient information.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) sets those policies and regulations and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) enforces them.

Refer to the Food Imports section on the CFIA website for details. But for information per product, including can you import this product from this area into this part of Canada and other exciting details try CFIA's Automated Import Reference System (AIRS). It is a comprehensive searchable tool. Be aware that it is strictly a reference. Meaning that in any discrepancy between it and any Act, the requirements in Act supersede the data in the AIRS.

What is the difference between a Certificate, an Attestation of Compliance and an Affidavit?

There are two types of certification documents under the Canadian Organic Regime (COR): certificates and attestations of compliance.

Certificates confirm the organic status of a product to the Canadian Organic Standards. Certificates can also be issued for packaging and labeling activities. Attestations of compliance are generated for non-certifiable custom services including slaughter, transport, storage, seed cleaning, etc. Attestations of compliance can also be granted to traders, importers or distributors seeking certification documentation for organic product that they own and sell.

Product certificates do not expire, but can be canceled. Packaging and labelling certificates expire after 12 months and are only issued when these activities are the exclusive action being done by the operation.

Affidavits under the Canadian Organic Regime (COR) can be use to verify an assortment of facts such as that newly acquired land or adjacent land has not been/is not treated with non-PSL substances, or that trucks are clean, or that seed is non-GMO, or that inoculants do not contain prohibited materials.

Certificates are the sole form of certification documentation issued under the British Columbia Certified Organic Program (BCCOP). Custom service provider affidavits may serve as part of the compliance assessment of a BCCOP certified operation's organic system plan, in addition to the COR affidavit examples given above.

Click here to read Q&As on different types of certification documents such as certificates, attestations of compliance and affidavits.

Tools to help with certification documentation

Many CBs provide documentation templates, but having records that serve both your business and certification needs are ideal. For most food preparation operations your existing records will more than satisfy the certification process requirements once they reflect your organic practices, and procedures.

During the application period, your CB will require you to complete an Organic System Plan (OSP). The OSP outlines what the operation is producing, who is responsible, and describes the management and record keeping practices in place used to monitor implementation of that plan. The OSP must be updated annually and Verification Officers determine the accuracy of the OSP during their annual site visit.

Key records that food preparation operations may need, depending on the operation type:

  • ✔ Receiving records - records that verify that product received was organic and verifies the amount of organic product received:
    • Organic certificate for each organic product or organic ingredient received
    • Non-organic ingredient documents (declarations, commercially available forms)
    • Certificates of analyses or Product Specification Sheets (for both organic & non organic ingredients)
    • Clean truck affidavit for bulk product (verifies that truck was cleaned prior to hauling organic products)
    • Receiving equipment clean-out logs
    • Invoices, purchase orders, bills of lading, scale tickets
    • Inventory reports and records
    • Weigh tickets, receipts, and tags
  • ✔ Storage and Production Records
    • Ingredient inspection forms
    • Recipes and product formulations
    • Ingredient usage reports and production logs
    • Quality Control reports
    • Reconditioning, shrinkage, and dumping, container, storage and processing area clean- out and reuse logs
    • Purchased inputs, including ingredients, sanitizers, food contact substances, packaging, pest management materials
    • Inventory reports for ingredients and finished products
    • Packaging reports
    • Pest control and sanitation logs
  • ✔ Shipping Records - records that verify type and amount of organic product shipped
    • Pallet/tote tickets and scale tickets
    • Certificates of analyses
    • Purchase orders and sales journals

Marketing Organic Food Resources

Click here for these resources