About IFOS and Its 5-Star Rating System

Cecile LaRiviere

Posted on January 08 2017

Fish oil must to go through a purification process to reduce contaminants and must be carefully handled and stored to maintain its quality. To ensure that the fish oil products have in fact been purified and been handled appropriately, tests are performed for validation. Test results must meet certain standards. Standards have been determined as being safe and are scientifically determined to ensure a stable product. Different standards exist for different organizations, and they are all acceptable and within limits to ensure a safe and fresh product. The most widely used standards that are followed are set by:
  • World Health Organization (WHO)

  • Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN)

  • Global Organization for EPA and DHA (GOED)

  • United States Pharmacopeia (USP)

What is IFOS and how are they different?
The International Fish Oil Standards Program is the only 3rd party testing and certification program for fish oils. IFOS™ sets international standards for fish oil quality.

The IFOS™ Program will approve products that meet the standards set by WHO, CRN, and GOED. However, when a fish oil product is tested through IFOS™, it is rated based on a 5-star system. Products that have achieved the highest worldwide stan­dards for fish oil are awarded the coveted IFOS™ 5-star rating. The 5-star criteria for finished products are:
  • Products must meet the label claim for active ingredient concentration

  • Products must pass all IFOS™ testing categories;

    • Potency

    • Heavy metals

    • Stability

    • Contaminants

    • Product has an oxidation level less than 75% of the CRN standard

    • Product PCB levels are less than 50% of the CRN standard

    • Product dioxin levels are less than 50% of the WHO standard

A 5-star rated fish oil product ensures your brand exceeds all international standards for the superior quality. Also, IFOS now tests all fish oil for possible radiation contamination for additional precautions and safety. This feature was added in 2015 due to the Fukoshima Nuclear Reactor disaster and its potential impact on radiation levels on anchovy stocks from the Pacific Ocean. This species and area is a large ingredient source for the omega-3 industry.

Companies that choose to subscribe to the IFOS™ Program understand the importance of transparency and are committed to product excellence. Characteristics of an IFOS certified company are:
  • Concerned about the health and safety of their customers

  • Committed to transparency and the consumer’s right to know

  • Willing to test their products against the highest, most stringent indus­try standards for safety, purity and quality

  • Understand the importance of publishing full product testing results per lot/batch

  • Recognize the value and importance of 3rd party testing

  • Proud to bear the IFOS certification mark which shows the world their products meet the highest possible standards worldwide

IFOS makes it easy for the consumer to download the particular product’s report. Simply visit www.ifosprogram.com and type in the lot number which can be located on the bottle label of your IFOS™ certified product. Alternatively, you can also check whether a specific brand participates in the IFOS™ program before you make any purchasing decisions by going to the same website.

Let’s take a further look at the above-mentioned categories for IFOS™ testing.


IFOS™ tests the active ingredients content compared to the label claim. This means that if a product claims on its label to contain 1,000mg of DHA it must meet this amount at the very minimum level. U.S. dietary supplement guidelines allow a 25% disparity over the claimed amount.


Total PCBs
PCBs are a group of manufactured organic chemicals used widely until the late 1970s. PCBs build up in the environment and cause harmful health effects in humans and animals. PCB’s can be highly concentrated in fish found in waters with even low levels of these carcinogens.

Dioxins and furans
Dioxin and furans are environmental contaminants that are formed as a result of the combustion process, such as burning fossil fuels. Dioxin is the most toxic man-made chemical, and furans are about a tenth as toxic. These contaminants are human carcinogens and also cause non-cancerous health effects.

Dioxin-like PCBs
Dioxin-like PCBs are related chemicals derived from the PCB family. Resistant to biological degradation and persistent in the environment, these chemicals are widely used in industrial, commercial and domestic applications. Little is known about the impact on human and animal health, but they are assumed to have the same effects as PCBs.



Mercury has been used to make products ranging from skin creams to dental fillings to electricity (coal burning releases mercury) and can be found is some fish. Mercury can cause permanent damage to the brain and central nervous system, and affect other organs in humans.

Lead is a heavy metal, which, if inhaled or ingested is poisonous to animals and humans. Lead is also considered a neurotoxin which accumulates over time through exposure to soft tissues and bones. Massive buildup of lead for mammals can damage nervous systems and cause brain disorders.

Total arsenic
Arsenic is highly mobile in the environment and not naturally removed or detoxified. Arsenic is used for smelting and mining and in pesticides. It is considered carcinogenic and impacts the nervous and gastrointestinal systems.

Cadmium is used for industrial processing, batteries, and other synthetics. It is also produced through the burning of fossil fuels and municipal waste. Cadmium is a known carcinogen, linked to many forms of cancer in humans. Cadmium is also known to affect the human renal, cardiopulmonary, and skeletal systems.


The first compounds formed by the oxidation of an oil are hydroperoxides. These peroxides may catalyze greater oxidation, or decompose and react further - giving rise to a rancid taste.

The p-anisidine values are used to measure secondary oxidation or the level of aldehyde production during the processing of oils. Anisidine values reflect how oil has been handled and stored, where peroxide value measures current oxidation.
True Anisidine Value
Although the above mentioned anisidine value test has been a proven methodology for testing fish oil in the past, it has presented some difficulty today due to fish oil supplements being formulated with natural flavors such as lemon for added palatability. The traditional testing methodology lead to false positive results for rancidity in flavored formulas. A groundbreaking testing methodology, the True Anisidine Value (TAV) Test is now available for all fish oil brands and is used by the IFOS Program when they are presented with any products containing naturals flavors which successfully overcomes the aforementioned obstacles.
Total Oxidation (TOTOX)
Fish and plant oils begin to oxidize as soon as they are exposed to oxygen, metals, light, and heat. At late stages, oxidation will make the oils smell rancid. In early stages, regardless of the lack of aroma, high levels of oxidation are still harmful.

Acid Value
Acid Value is a general stability and quality measure for fats and oils of all types. This test is a measure of the presence of free fatty acid in a sample of material to confirm the level of triglyceride hydrolysis. The greater the level of hydrolysis, the more compromised the material.


After the Fukushima accident, samples of fish and fish oil products were tested for increased levels of radiation. Although levels were slightly increased, it only accounted for 0.2% of the total radiation naturally found in fish. New guidance came into effect in 2011 to ensure the safety of consumers. Although officials have stated that the risk is very low, IFOS™ have included radioactivity testing to all their fish oil products for added quality assurance.

Our Commitment

Our commitment to provide women with the highest-quality, purest ingredients makes us proud to be joining IFOS as its newest member. Our children's Omega 3 Supplements have all passed their stringent standards.

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