Gone are the days when you can simply move fresh produce from the field to the direct-market's shelf. Federal food safety regulations now being ratcheted up will make it more difficult without achieving Good Agricultural Practices certification.
Now there's a free online tool to help you become GAP-certified and create a Food Safety Plan. Earlier this week, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan and leaders from food and agriculture organizations introduced the On-Farm Food Safety Project.
Developed by FamilyFarmed.org with funding from USDA's Risk Management Agency, it helps farmers design a customized manual to meet GAP certification requirements and mitigate business risks by answering just a few questions. It's available at www.onfarmfoodsafety.org.
"Effectively managing risk is important to all producers, and having an acceptable food safety program is in the best interest of consumers, buyers, and the farmers themselves," said Merrigan. GAP-certification is an important step before taking USDA's voluntary audit.
The GAP audit verification program focuses on best ag practices verifying that verify fruits and vegetables are produced in the safest manner possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards. That way, you meet Food and Drug Administration recommendations of the Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.
FamilyFarmed.org's On-Farm Food Safety Project meets Harmonized Standards and audit expectations developed with United Fresh, according to David Gombas, United Fresh senior vice president for food safety and technology. With many retailers now requiring GAP certification, it'll boost opportunities to enter wholesale and retail markets.
How to get certified
Developing and following a written food safety plan is an important step toward minimizing the risk of produce contamination on your farm. The website offers a free, easy-to-use online tool to help develop a customized food safety plan.
Create a Food Safety Manual will prepare you for an actual food safety audit by helping you assess risk areas specific to your farm operation. In addition to generating a customized on-farm food safety plan, the tool will provide your farm with recordkeeping templates to help document your food safety program and employee training. Being proactive and having a food safety plan in place along with proper documentation is a wise business practice.