Launched in 2004, IFOS (International Fish Oil Standards) is Nutrasource’s globally-recognized certification program. The IFOS quality requirements are based on rules set forth by the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED) Voluntary Monograph. The standard was developed by members of the Omega-3 Working Group at the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), which was the predecessor to GOED.
Will Rowe, Nutrasource’s co-founder and CEO, told NutraIngredients-USA that the company looks to a variety of references when setting their standards. The IFOS-certified process is three-pronged, with products tested against standards for active ingredient content, stability and contaminants.
Three-prong test panel
Nutrasource relies on the GOED monograph for testing methods as well as detection levels and limits. They also lean on the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for cut points and exposure points, and then apply more stringent standards.
“So it's a little bit more conservative,” said Rowe. “We like to reference and leverage very strong credible sources. We took that [GOED] monograph as sort of our baseline and then used the tests that are listed in there for what's considered quality fish oil or quality marine oil and apply that to brands. We look at essentially everything in the monograph and then we look at the safe cut-offs for PCBs, dioxins, furans and dioxin-like PCBs, heavy metals, and mercury for these toxins and poisons and look at what is considered healthy exposure to an individual per day.”
“The second area is stability,” said Rowe, noting that omega-3s are highly prone to oxidation, making fish oil shelf life limited. “Stability is a big issue with marine oils. With any fat lipid ingredient and lipid-based products, stability is an issue. That's why there is a lot of guidance and regulations around stability for foods, cosmetics, and dietary supplements as well as pharmaceuticals.”
The third testing panel examines if the product contains the amount and specific types of omega-3s the label says it should.
“What ingredients is the consumer seeing on the bottle and does what is in the bottle match with what the consumers are being told is on the label?” Explained Rowe.
Putting power in consumers’ hands
Nutrasource works with a network of vendor-qualified labs that use high tech testing methods to allow consumers to trace their supplements.
“So the consumer can look up the exact lot number on a product report and map it back to what they're feeding themselves and their family. They can look at the exact lot number, or batch number that's on the bottle, and the test results that we've tested and coordinated for that particular SKU,” explained Rowe. “It is a lot-to-lot testing program, and our brands do typically adhere to that.”
“From a consumer-facing standpoint, even though we started some of these programs many years ago, all the new data shows that millennials and gen Z really focus on researching their products. And because they're so adept at technology and research online, there is a real swing. There's definitely a huge trend in the way the purchasing is being researched, they're not just going to go off what a company says, they want third-party verification. So these third-party certification programs that are test-based really assist them in making informed decisions and our platform -- as long as you have internet access -- is completely at no charge to the consumer and the industry can showcase their consistency," noted Rowe.
Today, thousands of products around the world carry the IFOS certification mark. Rowe said that the company is up to about 150 brands globally in the marine oil space on a consistent basis from different levels of the supply chain.
Rowe said the IFOS program allows consumers to see the legacy of commitment to quality for their brands.
“We're here to showcase for consumers. Yes, we're a for-profit company, but it's the industry that pays for the testing.”