By Stewart Jacobson, Food Safety Projects Coordinator, Agricultural Consultation and Training for the Arizona Department of Agriculture: You may have heard about the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) audit certification program called GHP/GAP. Good Handling Practices/Good Agricultural Practices, or GHP/GAP, is a voluntary program of written food safety procedures, methods, and plans that a farm, grower, processor, transporter, warehouse operations would use to prevent microbial contamination of their crops and produce. Included in this program are fresh fruits and vegetables, and tree nuts. There are separate GHP/GAPs for tomatoes, mushrooms, sprouts. And there are other food safety auditing programs: Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA), Global Gap, Harmonized GAP, Group GAP, Primus Labs, Siliker Labs to name a few. GHP/GAP is a basic, entry level food safety program.
GHP/GAP is a written program of your operations and methods, your Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), following the FDA’s “Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.” This guide for industry is available online at the FDA’s website.The GHP/GAP audit itself is available from USDA/AMS.
Arizona Agriculture and Food Safety
GAP is the term used for procedures prior to harvest, while GHP are procedures post harvest, and I will discuss each one.
When we think about food safety at the growing level, there are several areas that would contribute to microbial contamination: soil, water, manure, and worker hygiene and practices. If the soil is contaminated or the irrigating water has a high bacterial load, or the manure is hot with bacteria, there is a really good chance that the produce will become contaminated with the bacteria, and if that bacteria is pathogenic (ability to make people sick) there will be problems. If the workers themselves are sick, shedding bacteria onto the produce, then your buyers are in a potentially hazardous situation.
At the packing or processing facility food safety concerns would include: condition of incoming product, washing of the incoming product, cleaning and sanitizing of the food contact surfaces and equipment, packing house facility cleanliness, employees’ clothing, hand washing, eating, drinking, jewelry, illnesses, packaging materials and storing these materials, and of course product handling. Each part of the operation must be assessed for hazards.
On-farm, garden operations are unique to the growers. Some traditional methods include in-ground, with furrows and rows, while others may use raised beds. But these are still in ground, using soil or other growing medium. Other operations use hydroponics, using just fertilized water in large tanks as a growing medium or the use of fertilized, inert material, sphagnum moss, sand, etc, that provide a support for the roots but impart no nutrients to the plants.
Each grower has unique circumstances they employ, but common threads: plant a seed, water, nutrients, sometimes sun (sprouts may not require light) and a plant may grow and thrive. Keeping that plant healthy and pathogen free is concern for everyone.
Stewart Jacobson is a part-time employee of the Arizona Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Consultation and Training. He retired from the Meat and Poultry Inspection program after 33 years and now is a consultant with the ACT program assisting growers in developing a food safety program for the GHP/GAP program. He can be reached at 602-542-0950 or firstname.lastname@example.org.