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Beyond GMPs: 10 ways to judge supplement quality

Good Manufacturing Practices—those Food and Drug Administration rules that help ensure supplements are processed in a consistent manner and meet quality standards—are great, but perhaps only a great start, say some retailers. According to the FDA, 25 percent of the dietary supplements manufacturers inspected by the agency in 2010 had significant GMP deficiencies.What’s more, “there are two loopholes that GMP does not cover,” says Nancy Flynn, the director of marketing for Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage. Those holes include the lack of supplier verification and heavy metal testing.

To fill the gaps, the western retail chain has become a burly gatekeeper at the entry to its supplement aisles. How do they do it? How can you do the same? Here are 10 strategies to consider:

  1. Ask for third-party certification.
    Confirm that the company’s processes were audited to be compliant with GMPs. Two programs to consider: NSF Good Manufacturing Practices Registration and the Natural Products Association GMP Certification Program.
  2. Get it in writing.
    Natural Grocers asks all vendors to fill out a Quality Questionnaire. The form’s contents adds up to more than 28 questions, including how raw materials are handled, how machines are cleaned, what quality tests are performed, what production methods are used, who formulates products and more.
  3. Require supplier verification.
    Ask manufacturers to outline their supplier verification process. Vendors should also submit the forms that they insist their suppliers fill out.
  4. Question the origin of raw ingredients.
    Require a listing of Country of Origin for all raw materials. Natural Grocers also asks manufacturers to guarantee—often through third-party testing—that ingredients from China and India aren’t contaminated.
  5. Request heavy metal testing documentation.
    For example, Natural Grocers has vendors deliver records for heavy metal and PCB tests conducted on fish-oil products.
  6. Get specific.
    If you prohibit GMOs in your store, ask whether the starting material for natural CoQ10 uses a non-GMO sugar-beet base. If your customers don’t want petroleum-based B and C vitamins, ask what materials are used to manufacture these nutrients.
  7. Do independent tests.
    Natural Grocers periodically does independent lab testing on supplements to ensure that the potencies and quality match the labels.
  8. Reject misfits.
    Should a test reveal a product or ingredient deficiency, contact the company. Depending on the violation, you may opt to remove the product from store shelves until the manufacturer corrects the product or label.
  9. Educate employees.
    Create a handout on GMPs, as well as your store’s unique supplement standards. Make sure employees read and understand the process, so they can answer customer questions.
  10. Repeat the above.
    All new vendors to Natural Grocers must fill out the Quality Questionnairre. Existing vendors must update information annually.

Sure, this process will take time, and you’ll likely miss out on the latest craze. But in the end, you’ll become a trusted source for supplement shoppers.

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