Addressing Food Safety and Good Agricultural Practices through Certification:
US FARMGAP Announces Cost Effective GAP Program for Farms and Packing Operations
By Jonathan Austin
Enlightened farms and packers recognize, even without recent government interest, that food safety is the key to being a successful and responsible citizen of the agricultural community and the world at large. In response to food safety incidents in the past few years, a wave of new interest, and in some cases, new laws and regulations, has spread throughout the food and agriculture community.
Recently the Congress passed and the President signed into law, the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was intended to be a major overhaul of food safety regulations in the United States. Included in its provisions were the requirements that farms and packers have a food safety compliance plan, in addition to annual mock recalls. Only the diligent work of Montana Senator Jon Tester ensured that there was a small farm exemption which excluded operations with less than $500,000 in sales who sale the majority of their product direct to consumers or within 275 miles of the farm and within the same state. Nonetheless, processors, packers, and growers who sale the majority of their product to distributors, processors, or national or regional retailers, will be required to comply with the Act and the FDA regulations promulgated as a result of the act.
Among the requirements of the Act are that some operations must register with the FDA under the Bioterrorism Act, operations must identify potential hazards, must implement effective preventative controls, conduct annual mock recalls, and have a written food safety plan. Most farms and packers will be affected by the Act and subsequent rule making by the FDA.
US FARMGAP, a program run by OIA North America, a USDA accredited certifying agent under the USDA National Organic Program, is one company which is trying to assist farms and packing operations comply with the regulations through a standardized food safety and Good Agricultural Practices certification program.
Farms and packing houses seeking certification are provided a standard which is based on the common potential hazards in farming and packing operations, a model compliance plan which can be tailored to the operation, an onsite inspection to ensure that preventative measures are implemented effectively, and once compliance is determined, a certificate attesting to the operation’s compliance with the requirements of the standard. Among the common potential hazards addressed by the standard are microbiologic qualities of water, use of manure on the farm, wildlife activity and animal waste contamination, and worker personal health and hygiene. Packing operations address a similar set of hazards, as well as hazards addressed through the use of sanitizers and chemicals.
The program which was piloted successfully this spring with blueberry growers in Florida is intended to take the mystery and confusion out of compliance while being extremely cost effective. The average farm pays about $500 to be certified under the program and to access the off the shelf program components. Packing operations are charged prices beginning at $750 and are able to access the same off the shelf resources created for packing operations.
OIA North America, which operates the program, is rolling the program out nationwide and hopes that farms and packers should find the program a valuable and cost effective tool to address compliance issues within their operation and communicate to regulators, customers, and the general public their commitment to food safety and best practices.
More information about the US FARMGAP program is available at www.oianorth.com.