Whole Foods Market said last week each of its 273 U.S. stores earned organic certification.
 
Third-party organic certifier CCOF confirmed the retailer met tougher new rules for organic certification that went into effect last year.

Whole Foods became the first national chain to earn “group certification” status in 2003. Under the original program, a third-party certifier inspected a certain number of stores, along with the overall company and monitoring systems to assure compliance. In 2008, the USDA decided each store must be inspected.

“We believe that our customers benefit from having everyone who handled their organic food certified, not everyone except the retailer,” Joe Dickson, Whole Foods’ quality standards coordinator, said in a statement last week. “While some certified retailers may have just a few departments certified, and focus on shrink-wrapped organic produce, we’ve opted to go all out. In our stores, every department that handles organic food is certified -- produce, meat, bulk, cheese, even stores with organic salad bars are certified.”

Compliance with the standards mean individual stores verify organic status of said products, maintain an audit trail, prevent organic products from cross-contamination with other products and materials, and train employees in proper handling practices.

CCOF, a nonprofit that's billed as one of the largest and oldest USDA-accredited third-party organic certifiers, said Whole Foods is its biggest retail certification to date.

Image courtesy of Whole Foods.