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 (firstname.lastname@example.org, 240-994-5043) if you reside in Central, Western or Southern Maryland. Contact Angela Ferelli (email@example.com, 302-353-7159) if you farm on the Eastern Shore, in Baltimore City, Baltimore, Cecil or Harford Counties.
This article appears on September 9, 2021, Volume 12, Issue 6 of the Vegetable and Fruit News