Good Agricultural Practices basics

What are GAPs?

Good Agricultural Practices, or GAPs, are voluntary guidelines for produce farmers to reduce the risk of microbial contamination related to food borne illnesses on their farms. The guidelines are based on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Guide to Minimizing Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Produce (PDF).

Why GAPs?

As consumption of fresh produce has increased, the number of foodborne illness outbreaks associated with fresh produce also has steadily increased. Bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli 0157:H7 are most often linked to these illnesses, as are parasites such as Cryptosporidium and Cyclospora. As a result, some larger buyers, especially supermarkets and produce distributors, have begun began requiring their vendors to be audited by a third party to certify that they follow Good Agricultural Practices to minimize the risk of microbial contamination on their produce.

Why are GAPs important for my farm?

Good Agricultural Practices can reduce the risk of harmful contamination of your produce

Following best practices for reducing microbial contamination ensures that the food that you sell to the public will not cause harm or illness for consumers. Reducing the risk of contamination before it occurs is the best way to minimize the risk of illness in the public.

Lettuces, salad mix, green onions, tomatoes, sprouts, cantaloupes, carrots, raspberries, and herbs are most often associated with foodborne illness outbreaks because of how they are grown and consumed. All growers, regardless of their products, can benefit from implementing a set of SOP to reduce microbial contamination.

GAPs are not intended to sanitize fresh produce or completely eliminate the risk of contamination: this is impossible. GAPs are intended to guide growers to reduce the risk of contamination where possible.

Quality and shelf-life of your product is maintained and spoilage reduced

GAPs focus on post-harvest handling and proper cooling, handling and storing of product. This can reduce spoilage, improve quality and ensure that you have the best quality produce for your customers.

Greater organization and efficiency of your operation

After the initial work of developing a food safety plan, many growers report improved efficiency and streamlined inventory control and management of their products.

Your customer may require an audit

Many produce distributors and supermarkets require, or will soon require all their vendors have a GAP audit. If you wish to sell to this buyer, you must have follow their requirements for certification.

What is a GAPs audit?

There are various GAP audits available. The most basic, and easiest to implement, is the USDA GAP audit. The USDA GAP audit checklist consists of these sections:

  1. General farm review (includes worker health and hygiene, traceability, water quality, manure and compost, animals and livestock)

  2. Field harvesting and field packing activities

  3. Packing house facility

  4. Storage and transportation

  5. Traceability (this section has been incorporated into other sections)

  6. Wholesale distribution center (applies to distribution centers)

  7. Preventative food defense procedures (applies to distribution centers or very large farms)

Each section is a checklist related to food safety practices. Everyone must pass the General Farm Review (section 1), but the other sections will vary by grower. Many growers are audited only on 3 or 4 of the sections (e.g. 1, 2, 3 and 4; 1, 2 and 4). Customers who require growers to get an audit will specify which sections are needed.

USDA GAP audits are done by friendly inspectors from the MN Department of Agriculture, Fruit and Vegetable inspections unit. The rate for GAP/GHP audits is $108.00/hr. There is a 75 percent cost share available from the MDA. To schedule an audit call 651-201-6067.

There are other audits that you can choose and buyers will tell you which type of audit they require.

Depending on the products grown, more than one audit a year may be required by the buyer/customer.

What if I have more questions?

To get started, we suggest you attend a GAPs workshop. At these workshops, you will start creating your own food safety plan using the templates pre-loaded onto jump drives. Next, begin creating your food safety plan using the templates and guidelines available.

Annalisa Hultberg, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2018

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