University of Maryland Extension

Food safety certifications

Nicole Cook, B.S., J.D., LL.M., Environmental and Agricultural, Faculty Legal Specialist, Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI), University of Maryland Eastern Shore

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Urban farmers who sell fresh produce to large retailers or other distributors may also be required by those buyers to certify their fruits and vegetables through one of many third-party voluntary quality certification programs for agricultural producers like USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices & Good Handling Practices (GAP and GHP) audit verification programs. Neither federal nor state law requires farmers to participate in third-party voluntary quality certification programs. Farmers agree to undergo the certification process in order to be able to sell to those buyers, and the certification requirement becomes a condition of the sales agreement; meaning that failure to obtain or maintain the required certification can be a basis for refusing to accept produce. In some cases, growers can negotiate with buyers for buyers to help cover the costs of obtaining certification. As always, it is recommended that you have an attorney review contracts before you sign them. Information about how to find an attorney in your area is provided below. More information about USDA GAP, GHP and GAP+, as well as the Harmonized GAP certification programs is available at

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State food safety laws

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Food safety laws for processed, “cottage,” or value-added foods

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