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Becoming a Certified Organic Handler

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Written by Eva Lauve, Scheduling and Food Safety Manager at Stemilt Growers

There is a 5-step process for a handler to obtain certification. The handler works in conjunction with a Certification Body on the following steps in order to receive an Organic Certificate:

1.  Contact a NOP Certification Body. The Certification Body is a certifying agent accredited by the Secretary under NOP for the purposes of certifying organic production and handling operations. 

2. Review the Organic Food Program Organic Certificate Guide from the Certification Body. This is the template that handlers use to write their Organic Systems Plan in order to achieve compliance with NOP. The guide simply helps the handler understand the expectations of NOP.

3. Complete and submit the NOP application with necessary fees. The NOP application is the Organic System Plan that the handler will follow for the receiving, storage, packing, and shipping of the product. The Certification Body then reviews the application for compliance with NOP.

4. Undergo an inspection of the facility by the Certification Body. An inspector is sent to the handler’s facility to review the Organic System Plan that the handler submitted.  This involves a facility walk-through as well as a review of both the chemicals and packaging materials used in the facility. Additionally, the review includes an examination of how loose and packed products are stored.  

5. The inspection is then submitted for review by the Certification Body and the handler is notified of the status of the NOP inspection. If any non-compliances are found during the review, the handler must correct them immediately. The Certification Body may re-inspect or perform a surveillance audit if they deem it necessary for compliance. (A surveillance audit refers to a visit from an inspector, during which s/he conducts a facility walk-through, reviews records, and possibly pulls product for sampling).