GAPs: Good Agricultural Practices

getty93245315-11.jpgGood Agricultural Practices (GAPs) are voluntary guidelines established by the FDA and USDA in 1998. They were created with the intent of identifying potentially hazardous situations and taking preventive steps to avoid product contamination altogether, rather than having producers react to problems that occur, which could prove financially disastrous to a farm.

When President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act in January, establishing safety standards for fruit and vegetable production, growers looked to Penn State Extension for help.

Adding to the challenge are the confusion and misconceptions about the act. Farmers with total sales of less than $500,000 are exempt from requirements as long as half of sales are made directly to “qualified end users,” such as in-state consumers, restaurants, or grocery stores or out-of-state locations less than 275 miles from the farm.

To help growers meet these requirements, extension educators offer workshops on produce production safety. These programs are offered during the winter between January and March when production pressures for growers are low. “Keeping Fresh Produce Safe Using GAPs” was offered at eight Pennsylvania locations and delivered instructions for evaluating and documenting farm food safety practices.

Previous workshops taught GAPs basics. This year, the workshop reviewed GAPs essentials and built onto that knowledge. Program topics included food safety hazards, water testing options, and how to perform a recall, prepare for an inspection, document farm practices, and write a GAPs plan.

Luke LaBorde, associate professor of food science, stresses the importance of GAPs for growers. “More and more, GAPs compliance is becoming a requirement for wholesale produce marketing,” said LaBorde. “Producers who don’t understand and implement GAPs and their documentation may be shut out of markets.” Receiving GAPs training and submitting to third-party inspection are also becoming purchasing conditions by wholesale buyers. LaBorde sees these workshops as an effective way to learn GAPs and the construction of food-safety plans to maintain quality produce and satisfied consumers.