USDA, FamilyFarmed Introduce Free Online Tool to Help Farmers Ensure Safety of Fruits & Veggies
January 2, 2012 | Andrew Burger
Farmers can now access a free, first-of-its-kind online application that can help assure that their practices are in compliance with the US Dept. of Agriculture’s (USDA) Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) food safety standards and procedures. Developed by non-profit FamilyFarmed.org with funding from the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) and input from a broad base of farm and produce industry partners, the online application is meant to be used as a tool to help farmers and packers ensure that they’re producing and storing fruits and vegetables in the safest possible manner, according to a USDA news release.
Licensed auditing professionals working for the USDA’s Fresh Products Branch regularly conduct food safety audits on suppliers across the produce supply chain to verify that best agricultural practices are being used and satisfy the purchasing requirements of retailers and the food service industry. They employ a matrix of food safety standards and procedures and third-party verifications in conducting their audits, which are based on the US Food and Drug Administration’s “Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.”
The introduction of the new online tool comes at a time of growing public awareness of and interest in how and where their food is grown and raised, as well as concerns about food safety. The online application is available free to farmers at FamilyFarmed’s On-Farm Food Saftey Project website.
“USDA believes that a strong farm safety net—including effective, market-based risk solutions for producers of all variety and size—is crucial to sustain the vitality of American agriculture,” said Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, who announced its introduction accompanies by leaders of food and agriculture organizations in Washington, D.C.
“Effectively managing risk is important to all producers, and having an acceptable food safety program is in the best interest of consumers, buyers, and the farmers themselves. USDA is proud to have worked with private, public and non-profit partners to introduce this free tool to farmers seeking to gain certification as a Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) producer.”
The new online food safety assessment tool is designed to provide farmers with a customized food safety plan. When using it, farmers are asked a series of questions on topics including worker health and hygiene, agricultural water, previous land use, soil amendments and manure, animals and pest control, packinghouse activities, product transportation, agricultural chemicals and field harvesting. A set of templates enables them to keep records documenting their food safety efforts.
Once their food safety plans are completed and they have gathered the required documentation, they can apply for GAP food safety certification, a process that many large produce purchasers ask for. Large produce buyers groups, including Compass Group, SYSCO and Chipotle Mexican Grill provided financial and technical assistance to develop the online tool. Once developed, it was reviewed by a group produce suppliers and buyers that also included the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, the Produce Marketing Association, the Wild Farm Alliance, The Organic Center, Western Growers, UC Davis, the United Fresh Produce Association and the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.