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Organic Restaurants – Really?

Restaurants are not held to the same standards as farms and food companies when it comes to declaring that their so-called “organic” restaurant is actually 100% organic. Priya Krishna, writing for The New York Times, reports that Gil Rosenberg, several years ago, began eating at a restaurant by the name of Bareburger in Queens. He made this choice based on the fact that the eating establishment claimed to be serving organic meat. 

A few years later, Rosenberg saw meat being unloaded from a truck that pulled up to Bareburger and delivered beef patties that were not labeled “certified organic,” as is required by the US Department of Agriculture.

Rosenberg wrote the restaurants’ chief executive, who responded that 75 to 80 percent of the beef in his burgers was organic. The frustrating truth for Rosenberg was that Bareburgers was not necessarily breaking any laws or regulations. Remember, restaurants are not held to the same standards. If they want to seek organic certification, they can apply but are not required to do so.

Organic products are in 82 percent of homes in the US, says the Organic Trade Association. Organic food generates over $45 billion in sales annually.

How Restaurants are Coping

Restaurants have several measures they can take to clarify their organic status with their customers.  The methods include:

  • Choosing to call the food served “organic” after having made a reasonable effort to use unadulterated ingredients
  • Purchasing organic ingredients whenever possible.
  • Labeling individual ingredients as organic where applicable.
  • Replacing the word “organic” with “local” or “sustainable”
  • Adding more descriptors to the restaurant’s brand.
  • Relying on the integrity and transparency of the owners of the restaurant.

100% Organic

It may be that a restaurant that considers itself to be 100% organic is holding itself to an unattainable standard. The following circumstances can make “100% organic” claims very difficult to attain.

  • Farms or producers are not able to keep up with demand.
  • Organic foods are often prohibitively expensive.
  • Sourcing organic food can sometimes be challenging.

It is possible though. Nic’s Organic is the first certified organic drive-through in the United States based in the Chicagoland area. They have seen growth since opening their first location in 2017 and have aggressive expansion plans.  “Once we are done in Chicago with our four to five units, we expect to have 25 units at the end of 2019 and

75 by the end of 2020,” Nick Zeavy, Co-founder 

Getting Certified

Most restaurants decide the complicated steps involved in getting an organic certification is too time- consuming and unnecessary. If a restaurant owner decides it will be beneficial to his or her establishment, the steps to do so include:

  • Contacting your local organic certifying agent.
  • Researching the current National Organic Program (NOP) regulations.
  • Being responsible for the verification and maintenance of your restaurant’s organic integrity.
  • Ensuring that your providers are in good standing with NOP regulations.
  • Preventing commingling and contamination between organic products and prohibited products.
  • Keeping accurate records regarding marketed products and the selling of those products.
  • Complying with NOP product composition and labeling requirements.
  • Not labeling foods purchased from small-scale organic producers, who are exempt from certification requirements, “certified organic.”

As the organic food industry grows, it incumbent upon restaurant owners to keep up with what will no doubt be ongoing changes in the regulations surrounding this restaurant niche.

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