In Food Safety Plans for Small Growers, I wrote about the necessity of some sort of written food safety plan, even for small growers who are exempt from the requirements set forth by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). In this blog, I’ll take the food safety plan one step further by sharing resources for greenhouse growers who are interested in having your plan audited and certified.
Third party certification of food safety plans or management schemes is an added layer of verification and legitimacy that your organization has a valid plan that is actively and effectively implemented. It’s a selling point with customers because it builds trust. Some wholesale buyers like Wal-Mart and Whole Foods require it.
Much of the information about food safety standards is focused on outdoor production. Greenhouse growers don’t apply manure and or have to think about providing handwashing and toileting facilities in the field. This lack of applicable information can be a little frustrating. PrimusLabs provides a self-audit checklist that is specific to greenhouse growers which will give you an idea of what their greenhouse GAP certification audit will look at and what you should be focusing on.
WHAT & WHO
If you’ve done any research in the area of third party certification of food safety plans, you will have noticed the frequent use of acronyms and field specific terminology. Let’s clarify the most common ones.
GAP: Good Agricultural Practices
GHP: Good Handling Practices
HACCP: Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points
HARPC: Hazard Analysis Risk-Based Preventative Controls
FSMA: Food Safety Modernization Act
GFSI: Global Food Safety Initiative
“(GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP) are voluntary audits that verify that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored as safely as possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards. GAP & GHP audits verify adherence to the recommendations made in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables (pdf) and industry recognized food safety practices.” These audits are performed by USDA certified auditors. If you would like to be audited for GAP and/or GHP, visit this website, Good Agricultural Practices.
The Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points assessment (HACCP) is “the process of collecting and evaluating information on hazards associated with the food under consideration to decide which hazards are ‘significant’ and must be addressed in the HACCP plan.” (Oyarzabal) It is an identifying tool. GAP and GHP are implementation tools.
HARPC is a creation of the Food Safety Modernization Act. It is like an HACCP but requires taking some actions one step further. For a detailed explanation of the differences between the two, visit Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls (HARPC): The New GMP for Food Manufacturing.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is the FDA’s recent legislation that sets forth guidelines for a new safety system that focuses on prevention.
The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) provides “thought leadership and guidance on food safety management systems necessary for safety along the supply chain.
3rd PARTY CERTIFICATION TERMINOLOGY
When it comes to 3rd-party certification of food safety plans, all sorts of terminology comes into use which can be confusing. Here’s a quick breakdown of how these certifications are organized.
Scopes: What does your plan cover? Vegetables? Animals? Growing or harvesting?
Standards: What you should and shouldn’t do to ensure the safety of your product
Benchmark: The different schemes need to be measured against something to make sure they are comprehensive and effective. In the case of food safety, schemes are benchmarked to the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) guidance document.
Audits-verification process to certify that a food safety plan meets standards
To find schemes for a variety of scopes that are recognized by GFSI, visit www.mygfsi.com/schemes-certification/recognised-schemes.html. You will find certification bodies (auditors) who are approved to certify a particular scheme on the individual websites. For example, QCS is an accredited certification body that is approved by Global G.A.P. to audit a GAP plan that is written to the Global G.A.P. scheme which is benchmarked to GFSI’s guidelines. Clear as a bell, right?
If you are a greenhouse grower, start with a GAP plan. Visit the USDA’s website for details on how to get started. Their Agricultural Marketing Service recently announced a GAP certification option geared toward small to mid-size farms called GroupGAP. The idea is to create an economy of scale by allowing multiple small farms and food producers to be certified together.
There is a great deal of support out there for growers. An internet search for “developing a Good Agricultural Practices plan” yielded the following results just on the first page.
As you begin this process, your research, knowledge of your business and the recommendations of your auditor will help you determine if you also need GHP certification and/or a HACCP plan. GHP certification can be combined with GAP through the USDA’s GAP & GHP Audit Program.
The Northeast Organic Farming Association recently wrote “farmers and food businesses alike [who may be exempt from FSMA Rules] must recognize that the final FSMA Rules usher in a new food safety paradigm where every level of the food system will be beholden to a new regulatory landscape once implementation is complete. Small-scale farmers who fall under certain exemptions might find themselves needing to fulfill supplier training and audit requirements if they sign up with aggregators, such as food hubs, for example. And for liability concerns larger food businesses such as supermarkets are instituting further metrics for supplier verification and food safety compliance.”
So food safety affects all growers. Developing a food safety plan is not quick or easy. Support documents can run in the hundreds of pages. Hopefully, though, this blog has provided you with some useful background knowledge and sufficient resources to get you started. There is so much on-line and in person support out there. The hardest part is just starting. So get going!
MPS-GAP Certification: Sustainability + GAP certification