Where do I Start?
The most common question from growers who want to know more about food safety certification is "Where do I start?" Every farm and operation is different, but here’s a general list for getting started with your food safety certification plan:
- Attend a Food Safety/GAP workshop or session
- Find out what kind of certification your buyer(s) requires
- Appoint a food safety plan point person
- Make necessary updates or changes to your operation, according to what the certification agency requires
- Create a food safety manual or plan
- Become familiar with your notebook and use markers to easily find (especially during audit)
- Train your employees
- Conduct a self-audit
- Schedule an audit with the certifier of your choice
What is it?
Food safety certification is the process that a farmer follows to enhance the food safety and management practices of the farm, assuring there is minimal risk to the harvest by contamination that may cause a foodborne illness. This process may be initiated at the request of a buyer of produce from that farm or may be completed by the farmer’s own initiative.
To become certified, the farm goes through a checklist and makes any necessary modifications to the farm and farm practices related to food safety. These modifications may include training employees, establishing a system that allows product traceback (a system that allows one to identify the field where that produce was harvested), and installing hand-washing stations and toilets available to all employees.
Once practices required by the farm-food safety certification program are put into place, the practices must be documented that they are maintained by recording the date, time and who implemented the practice to assure that the practices are not just put into place for the inspection but also followed on an on-going basis. This information is kept in the Farm-food Safety Notebook and must be available during the annual audit.
Food Safety Certification is intended to benefit the farm for the sake of the farm’s employees and their customers.
Farm-Food Safety Notebook
This is a notebook that is completed to identify the farm via a farm map which shows the buildings, roads, fields and water sources. Each action taken to make the farm food safe must be recorded of what was done, when and by whom. Click here for a model template.
Note that each action must be recorded in the food safety notebook to demonstrate that it was performed.
- Training all employees on food safety practices (hand washing, break areas, not working when ill)
- Installing and maintaining restrooms and hand washing facilities accessible by employees and visitors.
- Taking measures to reduce the presence of rodents and insects (traps, screens, doors).
- Keeping employees who are sick or have open wounds away from work until healthy.
- Providing an area separate from harvest or packing for employees to eat and take breaks.
- Establishing a tracking system that allows you to know which field a bin of food was harvested, by whom and when.
A farm is considered Farm-Food Safety Certified only after it has passed an audit performed by the Food Safety agency which is being required by the buyer or even the farmer. A farm is inspected by an agent of the food safety certification agency in the first year and then once every year following, for as long as certification is needed. A farm may be inspected by the agency in an unannounced visit, which typically occurs if there are questions about that farm’s food safety practices.
The inspections must be done during the harvest of the crop being certified. Therefore, if the farm harvests more than one crop, it may need to have more than one inspection to assure that the crop is harvested following food safety practices. The annual inspection must be initiated by the farmer. Records that are maintained in the food safety notebook will be verified each year during the audit.
Click here for a list of agencies that perform food safety certification audits.
The fee results from the annual inspection. You pay an hourly rate, including the inspector’s travel time. They make an appointment with you, so there is an opportunity to work with them to coordinate so another farm has an inspection the same day, to share the cost/time of travel. What really saves you money is to have all your records completed and your notebook available that is tabbed so you can easily turn to a place when the inspector asks a question.
Also, in addition to reviewing the notebook that includes procedures and signed statements of completion to indicate that practices are done, inspectors will want to see the fields, facilities and the harvest occurring. If you need to drive to the field, it’s helpful to have a vehicle that you can transport him or her. This is also a good time to answer questions they have about your farming system, saving a little more time (and money).
Working toward food safety third party certification for your farm will help to identify ways that you can modify the management practices and infrastructure on the farm to reduce the risk of contamination of the harvest, which may cause to a food-borne illness. The value of assuring that your farm and processing practices are food-safe is important for you, your family, employees and customers.
Who needs to be certified?
A market retailer or wholesaler may require a farm to be third party GAP certified to sell to them. The wholesaler or market may even require a specific brand of GAP certification. They require this so they can assure their customers that the food is being handled with safety in mind and that the handling process can be verified. However, a farm can choose to use any of the food safety checklists for self-assurance to identify possible modifications of its practices that will provide increased food safety through appropriate farm management and farm set-up.
Even if you do not have a market that demands that your farm is GAP certified, it is valuable for you to proceed with a food safety check to identify potential risks on the farm and make modifications to the management system to reduce risks which will help keep you and your farm staff healthy as well as your customers. However, a farm can choose to use any of the food safety checklists for self-assurance and to identify possible ways it can modify its practices to provide greater food safety by farm management and farm set-up. Here are several Food Safety Check documents that will help you to identify any gaps in your food safety management on your farm.
These are free tools for you to use to check your farm’s current status and identify where you may improve the food safety. Also, please see the Resources page.