To gain access to certain buyers of fresh fruits and vegetables, including grocery stores, distributors, schools, restaurants and other markets, a farm may need to participate in some type of program to ensure that they are following good agricultural practices aimed at reducing risks for foodborne illness.
Always check with your customer.
- Some buyers will find it sufficient that you are inspected/regulated under the Produce Safety Rule.
- Others may approve your participation in the Connecticut market access program or CGAP (similar to a third party audit program).
- Some may want you to participate in a third party audit program such as those provided by USDA/AMS, including the Harmonized GAP and GAP/GHP programs or those supplied by private industry such Primus or GlobalGAP programs.
The Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg) has developed a market access program for Connecticut farmers. The Department is no longer conducting USDA GAP audits.
CGAP (Connecticut GAP) is based on the provisions for farms that must comply with the full Produce Safety Rule.
For more information regarding the CGAP program, please contact the produce safety group at DoAg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 860.713.2522
Third party audits
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has the authority to regulate the safety of fruits and vegetables and, in some cases, FDA has delegated the authority to inspect produce farms to states through cooperative agreements.
Despite the implementation of the PSR, some supermarket chains, restaurant chains, schools, produce distributors and others will continue to look to third party audit programs as an additional check on farms supplying them with fresh produce. Buyers have long required other segments of the food industry (meat and poultry processors, dairy processors, for example), to comply with food safety standards such as SQF, GFSI, or other third party audit programs even though they have been under food safety regulatory oversight for almost 20 years.
Produce farmers undergoing a third party audit generally participate in one scheduled audit and one unannounced audit each season. Sometimes buyers will ask for commodity specific audits—for tomatoes or cantaloupe, for example, or several audits to address crops in season. Third party audit programs may post a list of farms or other operations that have successfully completed the audit program.
These programs charge for their services. Fees vary, but farmers may have to pay for the time the auditor spends reviewing food safety plans before the audit, travel expenses incurred by the auditor as they go to and from the farm, and the time spent conducting the audit and performing an exit interview or audit report. The USDA/AMS does have a program for Connecticut farms, helping them to pay for buyer required audit programs in 2019. Go here for information regarding this program.
What you need to do:
Once you know which audit program you will be using, find out which specific type of audit your buyer requires (i.e. The USDA/AMS offers several options). Go to the website of the auditing organization and find out all you can about their program so that you can prepare adequately. These links below can help get you started.
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)/Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) GAP/GHP and Harmonized Audit Programs
If your buyer requests a USDA GAP/GHP or Harmonized Audit, you must go to the USDA/AMS site to apply for an audit. There are auditors in New England who will perform the audits.
On the USDA GAP & GHP Audit page, you can find the USDA GAP & GHP audit standard. This program was the first GAP audit USDA developed to help produce farmers sell their products to buyers requiring a third party audit. You will also find the USDA Program User’s Guide and the Checklists for GAP and GHP Audits.
On the Harmonized GAP page, you will find the USDA Harmonized Checklists, including the Field Operations & Harvesting Checklist and the Post-harvest Operations Checklist. This audit standard was developed so that there would be “one audit by any credible third party, acceptable to all buyers.”
How to Request a GAP & GHP Audit (from www.ams.usda.gov)
- Determine what type of audit you need. For example, your customers may require a Harmonized GAP audit or, if you grow mushrooms, you might need a Mushroom GAP (MGAP) audit.
- Go to the Request for Audit Services page to complete online forms to request either a USDA GAP/GHP or a Harmonized Audit.
- Next, select the office closest to your farm, from the list of Local Specialty Crops Inspection Division audit offices.
- Email or fax your completed Audit Request Form to the office that you selected.
- The office will contact you and confirm the receipt of your request, give you more information about the program procedures, and schedule your audit.
- Complete the SC-430 Vendor Form and submit according to the form completion instructions.
- Complete an Agreement for Participation in Audit Services form SC-651 and submit it to your auditor or to the contact below, via email or fax.
Other third party audit firms*
On this page, Primus offers growers a full range of GAP audit preparation materials including checklists (for standard GAP audits, GlobalGAP, and Global Food Safety Initiative or GFS audits). There is also a food safety plan development tool.
SGS assesses and certifies farm systems and processes against the GlobalGAP standard as well as SQF 1000 (Safe Quality Food standard). It includes both GAP and other aspects of operations that are important to the safety of their products.
SCS Global (formerly Scientific Certification Systems)
SCS conducts comprehensive GAP/GMP audits, including GlobalGAP, Harmonized GAP, Primus Standard GAP and GMP, Primus GFS and SQF. In addition, SCS audits include a food security component upon request.
*(This information was prepared as a service to Connecticut farmers. Neither University of Connecticut nor any of its employees makes any warranty, expressed or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, product, company, or process disclosed. Reference herein to any specific service provider, commercial products, process, or service by trade name, does not constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the University of Connecticut).