Building a good food safety plan is a top priority for a new and beginning farm business. Food safety is incredibly important for every farm, regardless of size, methods of production, or marketing outlets. It is a common misconception that food safety and the need to implement the practices necessary to mitigate contamination of fresh produce are problems of scale, concerns only for larger farms. The reality is that most of the changes needed to move a farm from food contamination risk-takers to one of risk aversion via good agricultural practices are easy and require little capital investment. They also have the potential to enhance produce quality and improve labor efficiency.
The main areas of concern for food safety are water quality, manure and compost, human hygiene, wild and domestic animals in the fields and packing and storage facilities. Irrigation and water used for washing produce should obviously not contain harmful pathogens. To ensure levels are tolerable, water tests should be conducted. The frequency with which a farm tests its water depends on the source – municipal, well, and surface sources all have different requirements under GAPs. Furthermore, water-contact surfaces, such as dump tanks, wash tanks, and coolers should be cleaned frequently. Knowing the quality of your water is the food safety equivalent to a soil test. You wouldn’t farm without knowing the qualities of your soil and you shouldn’t sell produce without knowing the quality of the water used to irrigate and wash it.
There are three topic areas of food safety compliance and training addressed on this site:
1) Fresh produce safety and the Food Safety Modernization Act.
2) GAP and GMP training and certification
3) Regulations for processing and marketing meat, poultry and eggs.
National and State Regulations
There are both national and state regulations which apply to farm and ranch businesses.
For more information on your individual state’s requirements, please visit your state department of agriculture.
For federal compliance, the following resources can be useful:
The Importance of GAPs and Help with GAP Certification
Food Safety Alliances
- The Produce Safety Alliance is developing a nationwide curriculum to increase understanding of the principles of Good Agricultural Practices and to facilitate implementation of food safety regulations that will be part of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Their website includes information about training opportunities, educational materials, regulatory updates, and national produce safety collaborators. Outreach efforts focus on fresh produce growers, packers, and grower cooperatives, with special emphasis on small and very small farms and packinghouses. Additional materials for specific processed products and sprouts may also be found here:
- The Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance is a broad-based public-private alliance consisting of key industry, academic, and government stakeholders. Their mission is to support safe food production by developing a broad range of materials including a nationwide core curriculum as well as training and outreach programs to assist human and animal-food production companies in complying with the preventive controls regulations that will be part of FSMA.
- The Sprout Safety Alliance is a public-private alliance developing a core curriculum, training and outreach programs for stakeholders in the sprout production community. The goal is to enhance the industry's understanding and implementation of best practices for improving sprout safety, and additional requirements for sprout producers in the upcoming rule on standards for produce safety required by FSMA.