Certified Organic Handlers

Information on Becoming a Certified Organic Handler/Processor

Definition of a Handler/processor: Any person engaged in the business of selling, processing or packaging agricultural products except for final retailers that do not process agricultural products. Retailers can request certification, however, they are not required to by the National Organic Program.

Who and What Must be Certified:

Except for operations whose gross agricultural income from organic sales totals $5,000 or less, farm and processing operations that grow, process and/or package organic foods must be certified by USDA-accredited certifying agents. Retail operations are exempt from the certification requirements. The Maryland Department of Agriculture is a USDA accredited certifying agent for producers and handlers located in Maryland.

The National Organic Program requires:

§205.100 - What has to be certified:

(a). Except for operations exempt or excluded in '205.101, each production or handling operation or specified portion of a production or handling operation that produces or handles crops, livestock, livestock products, or other agricultural products that are intended to be sold, labeled, or represented as “100 percent organic,” “organic,” or “made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s))” must be certified according to the provisions of subpart E of the NOP: Final Rule and must meet all other applicable requirements of this part.

(b). Any operation that:

  1. Knowingly sells or labels a product as organic, except in accordance with the Act, shall be subject to a civil penalty of not more than $10,000 per violation.
  2. Makes a false statement under the Act to the Secretary, a governing State official, or an accredited certifying agent shall be subject to the provisions of section 1001 of title 18, United States Code.

§205.101 - Exemptions and exclusions from certifications

(a). Exemptions

  1. A production or handling operation that sells agricultural products as Aorganic@ but whose gross agricultural income from organic sales totals $5,000 or less annually is exempt from certification under subpart E of the NOP:Final Rule and from submitting an organic system plan for acceptance or approval under ' 205.201 but must comply with the applicable organic production and handling requirements of subpart C of the NOP:Final Rule and the labeling requirements of ' 205.301.  The products from such operations shall not be used as ingredients identified as organic in processed products produced by another handling operation.

Information for New and Continuing Applicants

As a potential or already certified organic handler, you need to understand and comply with the following:

National Organic Program (NOP) Rules: The rule can be found at www.ams.usda.gov/nop. Violators of the NOP standards can be subject to fines by USDA of up to $10,000.

In addition to the NOP Rule standards regulating substances used in organic processing and handling, other Federal, State, and local laws and regulations apply to protect food safety and public health. The authority of these laws supersedes any organic standards; organic handlers must comply with these other laws pertaining to their organic operation. Other applicable laws do not provide exemption for use of prohibited substances.

Within Maryland, go to the following websites for more information on the various state laws that may pertain to your organic processing and handling operation:

Maryland Department of Agriculture: http://www.mda.maryland.gov/. Search under “License and Permits,” “State Chemist,” or “Plant\Pests”.

Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: http://dhmh.maryland.gov.  Division of Food Control

Maryland Department of Agriculture Organic Certification Program Telephone: 410-841-5769 Fax 410-841-2750.

Other Resources:

Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) Generic and Brand Names Product List for Handlers. Information is available on their website at http://www.omri.org/ and on the National Organic Program (NOP) website. OMRI reviews products for compliance with National List and is intended to be a resource to help with the identification of products in the marketplace. Other materials not reviewed by OMRI may also meet federal standards.

New and Renewing Handler/Processor Applicants:

Procedure: Handler/Processor submits application, product profiles and fees. Upon submission, the Processor and Handler Application and Product Profiles are reviewed for completeness and compliance with the standards established by the National Organic Program. If application is incomplete or does not meet the standards, the applicant will be contacted to provide additional information or given the opportunity to withdraw their application. Complete applications that upon initial review appear to be in compliance with the requirements of the National Organic Program are assigned to an inspector who will contact you to set up an onsite inspection. The Application and Inspection report are then reviewed to verify compliance with the National Organic Program Standards. The applicant is either issued a certificate or is notified of the reason for denial. Effective date of the certificate will be the date issued. Once certified, operations are required to provide an annual update that includes any changes to the operation or products. An annual inspection will be conducted and an updated certificate will be issued January 1 of each year. 

Renewing Handler/Processors

Procedure: A postcard will be sent to all currently certified handlers/processors each year notifying that the annual update form is available on the MDA website. Hard copies will be mailed upon request. The annual update is reviewed for compliance with the NOP and either a letter will be sent requesting additional information or the handler/processor will be contacted to set up an inspection date. After review of the inspection and application for compliance, the handler/processor is sent an updated certificate January 1 of each year.


IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS - Organic Handler/Processor Application and attachments

  1. MDA_DOC_018Handlerapplication_pdf_10.28.17.pdfHandler Application MDA_DOC_018
  2. Handler Application MDA_DOC_018​
  3. Appendix A - MDA_DOC_056 - Handler Product List( MS Word format)
  4. Handler Product Profile _2017.docxHandler Product Profile _2017.docx ​​
Send completed application, Appendix A, organic product profiles and labels to:
Organic Certification Program
Maryland Department of Agriculture
50 Harry S. Truman Parkway
Annapolis, MD 21401
Mail your check made payable to MDA along with the cost share application (1st page of the application)
To:  Maryland Dept of Agriculture
        P O Box 17304                                     Baltimore, MD  21297-1304