Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan and leaders from food and agriculture organizations have introduced a free online tool to help U.S. producers achieve Good Agricultural Practices harmonized standards and certification. USDA's GAP audit verification program focuses on best agricultural practices to verify that farms are producing, and packers are handling and storing, fruits and vegetables in the safest manner possible to minimize food safety hazards.
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 Merrigan. "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 producer."
The free online tool, developed by FamilyFarmed.org with funding from USDA's Risk Management Agency, is available at www.onfarmfoodsafety.org/.
The program helps farmers design a customized manual to meet GAP harmonized standards and certification requirements, including USDA GAP standards, and mitigate business risks by answering just a few questions. Once users have completed their farm's food safety plan and compiled necessary documentation, they have the capacity to apply for GAP food safety certification, a process asked for by many larger buyers. Groups that participated in the development and review of the tool include: Chipotle Mexican Grill, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Compass Group, Earthbound Farm, Farm Aid, FDA, NSF Agriculture, Produce Marketing Association, SYSCO, The Organic Center, Western Growers, Wallace Center at Winrock International, Wild Farm Alliance, University of California at Davis, United Fresh Produce Association, and USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
The tool also offers farmers a full-set of record keeping templates to document their food safety efforts. This voluntary program verifies adherence to the recommendations made in the Food and Drug Administration's Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.