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The testing and certification company SGS has created a certification mark for labelling vegetarian foods. This certification mark is placed on food and beverages that have been independently verified according to a strict set of criteria. The label provides consumers a reliable guide when shopping: with just a glance they can see that the product is suitable for vegetarian nutrition.

The seal "For vegetarian nutrition" is backed by an extensive testing programme. In a multi-step process, independent SGS food experts verify whether the product meets the criteria necessary to label it a vegetarian food product. A check is carried out to review the product’s ingredients and raw materials to determine whether they contain animal ingredients. This check even includes non-declarable additives and packaging materials.

Vegetarian

Vegetarian – a precise definition

Food law currently has no binding definition on a national or European level as to when a food can be considered vegetarian. Therefore, when testing products for vegetarian labelling, SGS follows the definition established in May 2016 by the German Ministerial Conference on Consumer Protection.

According to this definition, vegetarian food and beverage products cannot contain any substances of animal origin at any stage of processing with the exception of milk, colostrum, shell eggs, natural honey, beeswax, propolis, lanolin and their components or any products derived from those ingredients.

The same even applies when animal ingredients serve only as carriers or solvents of aromas, enzymes or additives or are used as processing aids during production to be removed again before finishing the end product.

The unintentional inclusion of unwanted ingredients does not prevent products from being designated as vegetarian when technically this is unavoidable at each stage of production, processing and distribution despite taking the appropriate precautions when adhering to good manufacturing practices.

An extensive verification process

In order to carry the SGS certification mark "For vegetarian nutrition", food and beverages are required to undergo a multi-stage verification process at least once annually. Verification is carried out by experts from SGS, an independent testing company and owner of the SGS Institut Fresenius laboratories, among others.

The testing programme consists of several components and is based on a labelling review and the verification of numerous documents and specifications. The product’s formulation and manufacturing protocols are also verified. On-site inspections at the manufacturing plant and additional laboratory analyses may also be carried out depending on the risk that is identified.

The document review is used to examine whether the product’s formulation meets the list of requirements and also verifies whether the raw materials used are clearly documented. Additionally, it is important to prove that the employees involved have received detailed instructions on working with vegetarian foods.

On-site audits and laboratory analysis

During on-site audits at production facilities, SGS inspectors pay special attention, for example, to ensuring that inspections are carried out for incoming goods. Vegetarian raw materials must be stored separately from those of animals, and production lines must be cleaned properly when switching between vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods.

Laboratory analyses can be performed to additionally detect the presence of lactose, egg or milk proteins. Certain types of foods can be verified using procedures for fatty acid analysis or methods such as PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) or NGS (Next-Generation Sequencing) to identify animal species.

Individual test modules are combined differently depending on the food’s risk class. For example, some products such as ready-to-serve meals and delicatessen foods require more testing than purely plant-based products such as tea, fruit preserves and cereals. Similarly, certain production conditions necessitate further checks – especially when the company produces both vegetarian and non-vegetarian products and there is a threat of cross-contamination.

Thorough inspections

Consumers can rest assured that products labelled "For vegetarian nutrition" have undergone a thorough inspection carried out by an independent testing institute. A product that fails to meet the requirements cannot be placed on the market. If there is a serious discrepancy, SGS withdraws its certification mark from the affected product altogether.

Should I use the veggie seal?

If you are a manufacturer or distributor and are interested in the "For vegetarian nutrition" certification programme, please contact us using the form below.