Food Safety on Farms
Is purchasing produce directly from a farm safe? It all depends on the food safety practices in place at the farm. New laws will help ensure medium to large farms comply with appropriate food safety measures. Smaller farms can become certified to follow Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) by an independent auditor to provide reassurance that the produce is grown with food safety in mind. Farms that are exempt from new laws, and do not have GAP certification should be able to provide you with their food safety plan.
Food Safety Modernization Act
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law in 2011 which gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate the way foods are grown, harvested, packed and processed. The Produce Safety rule, published in 2016, was a requirement of the FSMA and established, for the first time, science-based minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption.
The Produce Safety rule does not cover:
- Produce grown for personal or on-farm consumption
- Produce that is not a raw agricultural commodity
- Produce that receives commercial processing that adequately reduces the presence of microorganisms of public health significance (eligible for exemption)
- Small farms with gross sales less than $25,000 annually
Farms under $500,000 in annual gross sales that sell the majority of food directly to customers are partially exempt.
Good Agricultural Practices
GAP, which includes Good Handling Practices (GHP), was formally implemented by the USDA and FDA in 2002. GAP is a voluntary audit program designed to verify that produce is grown, packed, handled, and stored as safely as possible. There are different GAP audit protocols such as harmonized GAP, Global GAP, and Group GAP that may have slightly different requirements. GAP auditors come from private companies, state departments of agriculture, and USDA. For more information about the USDA GAP and GHP, visit the USDA GAP Audits web page.
Many school districts in California require GAP certification from their growers to reduce the risk of food-borne disease. However, for some farmers, GAP certification can be a barrier due to cost. The least expensive audit is approximately $800 and is labor intensive.
Food Safety Plan
Small farms that are not GAP certified should provide you with a food safety plan. If the grower does not have a food safety plan, they should develop one. The Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) Food Safety Plan Templates web page has a sample Food Safety Template that is easy to complete.
If you have questions regarding farms and food safety, contact Kali Feiereisel, MPH, Food Safety Specialist, CAFF, by phone at 530-756-5818 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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