What is Organic, Really...

By: Sample6 on March 8th, 2016

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What is Organic, Really...

Food Safety Education  |  Regulations Explained  |  Food Safety Culture

There has been a lot of recent attention to organic food products and organic farming. As more research comes out about the dangers of synthetic pesticides and inhumane agricultural practices, more support is going towards what is "natural."

In order for a food to obtain this label, the processor/handler has to go through a long application process and complete annual checks of their facility. But do these strict regulations and all-natural food products mean that organic food is safer than inorganic?
organic food

What it is

"Organic" is a label that products receive if they were processed in a way that best preserved the natural environment and avoided pesticides and antibiotics, among other synthetic additives. This applies to both where the ingredients came from and how the final product was processed, so if these are different facilities, both facilities are certified as organic.

This term can apply to produce as well as meat, eggs, dairy and beauty products. In regards to livestock, organic implies that the animals had access to the outdoors to exercise natural behaviors and habits. Organic agriculture does not use genetically modified ingredients and the farms and processing plants are inspected annually.

Rules and Regulations

The USDA enacted the Organic Food Production Act in 1990, laying the groundwork and rules necessary to use the USDA Organic Seal. The National Organic Program (NOP) develops these guidelines that apply to the production, handling, labeling, and enforcement of                         USDA-approved organic foods. The NOP received input from both USDA officials and from the National Organic Standards Board, which is a Federal Advisory Committee consisting of 15 volunteers that are part of the organic agriculture community.

The rules and regulations created and enacted are first published as Draft Guidance. Similar to other food safety legislation, the new and updated regulations are released for the public to read and critique, and then after a certain amount of time receiving public input, they are finalized and added to the NOP Handbook. This begins with the preamble that began organic food legislation, instructions for farmers, policy memos, and other important and related documentation. The Handbook also includes the USDA National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. This goes into greater detail about what can be used with organic farming and what cannot.

What it takes to be an organic supplier

The USDA has a specific list of guidelines and requirements in order for a farm or production plant to become organic if they so desire. This would allow for them to use the USDA Organic Seal as well as receive funding and supplementary materials from the NOP because of their organic status.

In order to be organic, the producer/handler must protect natural resources, conserve biodiversity, only use approved substances from the National List for product fertility, healthcare, pest management, and processing aids. The best crops to grow organically are region-specific. If operations that want to claim organic violate USDA regulations, the complaint is reviewed and could be subjected to a fine or penalty.

It usually takes 3 years to switch from an inorganic facility to organic. The general steps required to do so are as follows:
  1. Become educated on organic and what it entails
  2. Producer/Handler submits their application describing how they will be adopting organic practices and maintain them
  3. USDA Certifying Agent reviews application
  4. USDA Inspector conducts an on-site inspection
  5. Certifying Agent compares application with the on-site inspection
  6. Certifying Agent issues official organic certificate 

For more information, check out the official USDA guidelines for organic certification-potentials.

but Does "organic" mean safer food?

produce food safety, grocery storeThe biggest question with organic farming is how are pests treated. Usually with organic agriculture, farmers rely on crop rotation, green manure, cover crops, composting, biological control systems, or inter cropping systems and not synthetic pesticides. There is limiting research on the nutritious differences between organic and inorganic food, and it is still a frequently debated matter. The legal amount of pesticide use has not been cited to be dangerous for human consumption. 

Bacterial contaminants, such as E. coli and Salmonella, are found on both food products, inorganic or not. Some research has found that some organic food has less microbial life, while other research has found the opposite. Other studies have looked into the presence of dangerous metals and high levels of antibiotics (which are actually not good for you because they can harm the good bacteria in your gut that are necessary for good health!) and found that organic has slightly lower levels of both. Click here for more information regarding this debated, inconclusive subject.

The USDA calls for every organic agricultural farm to have an Organic Systems Plan. This changes annually, staying up to date, and describes the practices and record-keeping systems of the producer. However, food safety management programs are necessary as well. Organic foods have fewer pesticides and synthetic materials, which is beneficial for human health, but again, the difference between the two are minimal. There has not been enough research to draw a concrete conclusion, so it is important that all food processors and handlers have a way to check, monitor, and protect their product from bacteria such as Salmonella

Sample6 detect/l environmental monitoring software does just that: helps you create a specific schedule and monitoring system for your processing needs, and offers a quick and easy way to make sure your facility is bacteria-free!

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