What producers, processors, importers and sellers need to know about organic food inspections and tests
You can be inspected at any time by the control body (CB) that certifies your products as organic if you produce, process, import or sell organic food or feed.
You might not get notice of the visit.
You can also report suspected products for the control body to inspect and investigate.
You’ll be inspected at least once a year by your control body. You may get further random inspections or if your control body thinks your premises may be a risk.
Provide samples for testing
Your control body might need to take samples if it inspects your business. You, or someone you authorise, must be present when your control body does this.
If your product has already been certified as EU organic by a control body in the UK or in the EU it can still be retested.
Your control body will send the samples to a laboratory accredited for the test necessary on your particular samples.
Get a detailed inspection if you have livestock
You might need more detailed assessments if you keep livestock for organic meat or dairy products. Your control body might test your livestock, meat and feed for:
- banned substances (known as prohibited substances in EU regulations) such as growth hormones
- use of veterinary medicines such as antibiotics
What happens if tests show that your product might not meet organic standards
Your control body will investigate if test results show that your product might not meet organic standards. They can only investigate if they have a belief backed up with evidence including test results, otherwise known as ‘substantiated suspicion’.
You control body might also need to check if any:
- other products in your business are affected
- businesses that supply ingredients to you are affected
Get a risk assessment if your products need further investigation
Your control body will carry out a risk assessment if the test results show a need for further investigation. You usually won’t be able to label your product as organic while a full investigation take place, depending on the results of the risk assessment.
The risk assessment will decide if:
- you’ve deliberately used banned substances, eg a prohibited pesticide
- contamination was outside your control, eg if someone else’s pesticide spray drifted on to your crop or an ingredient that you bought was contaminated
- you were negligent, eg you didn’t take measures to prevent contamination
- you’ve not been following the correct organic procedures, eg cleaning and disinfecting according to the rules
What happens if your products are over the safe limit for pesticide residues
You must contact your local trading standards or environmental health office if your control body reports you to the UK’s Chemical Regulation Directorate because it believes your product contains more than the safe limit of pesticides.
The safe limit for consumers is known as the maximum residue level (MRL). Each pesticide has a different MRL. Find out the MRL for a pesticide.
The Chemical Regulation Directorate will investigate you if you’re reported to them. You must contact your local trading standards or environmental health office if you’re reported to the CRD.
You must work closely with your control body during this period. All follow-up action will be via the CB.
Appeal against test results
You must tell your control body within 2 working days of receiving any test results if you disagree with the result.
- ask the control body to test again and get a second opinion
- arrange your own test, as long as it follows European Regulation 882/2004
You should do this in consultation with your control body who can advise in each case. Not all labs are accredited for all organic testing.
You’ll have to pay for a second test if the results of the second test are similar to the first test.
Stop labelling products as organic if they don’t meet organic standards
Your control body will tell you if you have to stop labelling any affected products as organic.
You must stop labelling some or all of your products as organic if you:
- deliberately used banned substances
- were negligent and didn’t follow the correct procedures for organic production
You may need to recall your product from anywhere it’s on sale or held in storage. You should do this in consultation with your control body who can advise in each case.
You won’t be able to start labelling your food as organic again until you’re told in writing officially by your control body. The control body will also tell the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) who will make a decision about whether you can start labelling your food as organic again and when you can start doing this.
If you start organic labelling without consent enforcement action is usually taken by trading standards. Your actions against the organic regulation can result in prosecution.
Contamination outside your control
You might be able to keep labelling your products as organic if any contamination was outside your control and you’re following the correct procedures for organic production. Your control body will make this decision on a case-by-case basis.
Report products suspected or known to be non-organic
You must tell your control body if you believe either of the following:
- your organic product contains banned substances
- your staff have not followed the correct organic procedures
- speak to and work with your control body
- keep any affected products separate
- stop labelling affected products with any reference to organic
- carry out testing in an accredited laboratory approved by the control body
- provide test results to the control body
You might be able to label your products as organic again if the control body is satisfied with the test results.
Report someone else’s product
You must contact your control body to report any banned substances you suspect might be in any ingredient you use or product you sell.
You should telephone your control body, who will then advise what procedure you should follow.
You must also report any organic products where you believe the producer may not have followed the correct organic production methods.
The control body might contact the organisation that certified these products, in the UK or abroad to arrange one or both of the following:
- a test
- an investigation
The control body will tell you the results of the test or investigation if it affects your business.