Learn about GAP and FSMA PSR safety measures for farmers

November 3, 2021

The past two decades have seen the implementation of both Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act), Produce Safety Rule. Maryland farmers are aware that food safety insures both healthy consumers and a healthy market. The University of Maryland Plant Science Department, Food Safety Group collaborates with the Maryland Department of Agriculture Food Quality Assurance Program, UMD Agriculture Law Education Initiative, and the University of Maryland Extension Food Safety to provide Maryland farmers and producers with support, education and assistance in fresh produce safety.

The above collaborators provide training sessions in basic GAP and advanced GAP to assist growers in understanding food safety risks on their farm and developing/implementing a food safety plan to minimize those risks. The training can also assist growers in obtaining GAP certification frequently required by buyers. See below for more information on the GAP program and if certification is right for your farm.

The Produce Safety Rule is a federal law that requires compliance based on a farm's three-year average annual produce sales. The training is taught by Produce Safety Alliance certified PSR trainers under the direction of a Lead Trainer. Participants receive certification of the training, which is one of the PSR requirements. See below for information.

Current information on both PSR and the GAP program can be found on the Walsh Lab Facebook page, Highway 301 Fruit and Vegetable News.

Clearing Up the Confusion between GAP Audits and PSR Inspections

Developing a food safety culture is an ongoing exercise that requires reminders, reinforcement and retraining. What about regulations? What about certificate (or audit) programs? Where do each of them begin, and who needs to either comply or elect to participate? That is where the confusion often comes in.

The confusion occurs because both GAP and PSR have many of the same practices and standards, and both encourage the development of a food safety culture on the farm.

The Produce Safety Rule (PSR) is a regulation under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011. This Act was the first revision of food safety laws since 1938. It came about due to the changes in the global food system and a better understanding of the consequences of foodborne illness. FSMA includes both animal (livestock and pet) and human foods. The PSR section of FSMA pertains to the safe production and handling of fresh produce for human consumption.

Although this is a federal regulation, it is enforced by the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA). Producers frequently wonder if the law applies to them. Necessary compliance to the regulation is based on how much food a farmer sells on a three-year rolling average and who buys the majority of the farm’s food. Go to https://psla.umd.edu/extension/produce-safety/does-produce-safety-rule-apply-my-farm to learn more.

Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) is a voluntary audit program that a farmer may request. Usually, a wholesale buyer requires a farm to have GAP certification before they will buy the farm’s produce. More recently, some direct-market farms are also earning GAP certification as proof to their consumers that food safety standards are practiced. Go to https://psla.umd.edu/extension/produce-safety/how-will-gap-certification-help-my-farm to learn more about GAP and the process to earning a certificate.

Harmonized Good Agricultural Practices (HGAP) is a voluntary certificate with more stringent practices and standards for food safety. Some of the larger grocery stores require this higher level of food safety audits before they will buy a farm’s produce. More information can be found here: https://www.ams.usda.gov/services/auditing/gap-ghp.

Food safety is often in the news, and as a producer, that causes concern to many. Farmers want to provide their customers with fresh, high quality produce whether they sell wholesale or in direct markets. Being involved in a food safety recall is damaging to a farm’s reputation and is a farmer’s worst nightmare. For that reason, there are science-based procedures and standards that will assist in the prevention of pathogen cross contamination in the growing, harvesting and handling of fresh produce.

There are several programs that producers may want to or need to observe. They all start with the overriding philosophy of food safety that is referred to as “developing a food safety culture” on the farm. What is a food safety culture? It is making the compliance to food safety standards second nature, such as washing hands after eating, using the toilet, working with animals or compost or any other chore where cross contamination may be an issue. It becomes reflexive muscle memory to not use a harvesting crate to hold cans of motor oil or personal possessions. It becomes reflexive to not put a dirty crate onto a food contact surface. There are many more examples of procedures that every employee and every owner need to commit to muscle memory in order to develop a food safety culture on the farm.

Still unsure or just want help? Contact Carol Allen (callen12@umd.edu, 240-994-5043) if you reside in Central, Western or Southern Maryland. Contact Angela Ferelli (angfer@umd.edu, 302-353-7159) if you farm on the Eastern Shore, in Baltimore City, Baltimore, Cecil or Harford Counties.

We have the first few Produce Safety Rule trainings for the 2021-22 winter on the calendar and registration is open!

December 8, 2021 – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., St. Mary’s County Extension, 26737 Radio Station Way, Leonardtown, MD 20650. Cost $25; register at https://psrtraining2021leondardtownmd.eventbrite.com or contact Ben Beale, 301-475-4481.

January 26 & 27, 2022 – 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. each day, Remote PSR Training via Zoom, Cost $25; register at https://january2022psrtraining.eventbrite.com. Registration Includes:

  • Course Materials (Produce Safety Rule Grower Training Manual v1.2)
  • Course Certificate from the Produce Safety Alliance upon successful completion of course materials

Who Should Attend?

Fruit and vegetable growers and others interested in learning about produce safety, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule, Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), and co-management of natural resources and food safety. The PSA Grower Training Course is one way to satisfy the FSMA Produce Safety Rule requirement for produce growers that requires ‘At least one supervisor or responsible party for your farm must have successfully completed food safety training at least equivalent to that received under standardized curriculum recognized as adequate by the Food and Drug Administration.’

What to Expect at the PSA Grower Training Course?

The trainers will cover content contained in these eight modules:

  • Introduction to Produce Safety
  • Worker Health, Hygiene, and Training
  • Soil Amendments
  • Wildlife, Domesticated Animals, and Land Use
  • Agricultural Water (Part I: Production Water; Part II: Postharvest Water)
  • Postharvest Handling and Sanitation
  • How to Develop a Farm Food Safety Plan
  • Role of MD Dept. of Agriculture and On-Farm Readiness Reviews