CERTIFICATIONS CREATE VALUE
The right certifications and the standards they represent help define a tea business’s reputation. For example, Numi tea incorporates the word “organic” into its brand name and logo. Certifications foster trust in the way teas are grown, harvested, and processed. This may include assurances of how laborers are treated, or how the environment is protected. Other certifications indicate the precautions taken to make sure teas are safe from contaminants or processing activities that may degrade or damage the final product. If there is ever a food safety issue, certifications define the plan to trace potentially harmful products back to the source (to prevent that ingredient from being further used) and downstream to the retail shelf (to allow for proper and timely product recalls).
WHAT CERTIFICATIONS ARE NOT
Understanding certifications means appreciating 2 aspects of the certification –
1. Understand what the certification does and doesn’t cover.
2. Understand how the certification is perceived by consumers.
That second point often gets overlooked – the creators of certifications don’t necessarily perceive the direction and meanings their certifications take on. Organic products, for example, wear a halo larger than their intended scope- consumers may mistakenly believe that organic foods are more nutritious than non-organic foods. “Organic” may mean more to consumers that it necessarily should.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Aside from a basic understanding of what a certification covers, here are a few other things to look for when evaluating a certified business:
SCOPE OF CERTIFICATION
Determine who or what is certified. Depending on the certification, this could be the organization, a particular activity of the organization, a person within the organization, or be limited to particular products the organization offers. Some certifications require multiple aspects of certification. For example, for a tea blender to produce USDA organic tea blends, the organization would need to have a certified organic tea from a certified organic grower. The tea blender would also need certification as a processor/handler to maintain the organic status of the product through the blending and packaging of the product. Without this chain of certifications, the organic status of the product may have been compromised by the introduction of non-certified materials or production equipment, or processes. Finally, the product itself may be certified based on the complete set of ingredients or based only on a percentage of ingredients.
WHO IS THE CERTIFICATION BODY?
There are a couple of ways to check on the certification status of a tea company you intend to work with. You can always request to see a copy/copies of their certifications to verify the scope of products/services the certifications cover. It is also a good idea to check that the certifications haven’t expired.
Once you’ve seen the certifications (or even if you haven’t), you can also verify certification via the certifier or inspection body. For USDA Organic certification, the United States Department of Agriculture maintains a database of compliant organizations and products.
Here is a useful checklist of the main documentation you should receive with a shipment of tea
You should also receive documentation that includes:
1. Product Specification, including
a. Country of origin
b. Storage conditions info/guidelines
2. Inspection Certificate (or COA), from the originating manufacturer, including
a. Lot #
b. Production Date
c. Contaminants assessment(s) including physical, chemical, and micro-biological contaminants
d. Pesticide statements by lot – test report
e. Radiation/Irradiation information
3. Ingredient/Nutrition Statement, including
a. Allergen information
b. GMO information
c. Gluten information
d. Caffeine information
4. Kosher Certification (if applicable)
5. Organic Certificate (if applicable)
6. Fair Trade Certificate (if applicable)
OTHER CERTIFICATIONS TO EXPLORE
This series on certifications will also explore:
Ethical Tea Partnership
Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)
Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) status
Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP)
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP)