If you are in the business of farming, packing, processing, aggregating, selling, and/or distributing fresh produce, then you should be thinking about food safety. With a growing number of buyers requiring their vendors to have third party audits, a robust food safety program is essential for any produce operation looking to scale up. And the 2016 implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) regulations makes it a legal imperative that you understand the requirements for your food enterprise.
In 2013, Fair Food was asked to participate in a USDA Group GAP pilot. Throughout this two-year pilot, Fair Food worked with two cooperatives and 100+ farmers and received extensive training in quality management systems, food safety standards, and food safety auditing. Both cooperatives were successful in obtaining Group GAP certification, and we gained a wealth of practical information, created useful tools, and became skilled in helping farmers overcome their trepidation and develop food safety programs that work for them.
On this page, we offer information and explanations that we hope will answer some of your burning questions and assist you in navigating the confusing food safety landscape. We also include resources you can download and edit to help you build your food safety program. These include examples and templates for food safety plans, logs and checklists, and a Group GAP quality management system.
The materials on this page will provide you with a starting point to create your own food safety plan, but you may find that you need more in-depth assistance. For a fee, we have an experienced food safety educator who can provide one-on-one consulting for individuals and groups.
Videos and Power Points
Navigating the Food Safety Landscape—The food safety industry is a shifting and confusing landscape that has yet to settle into a well-established terrain. Since the mid-1990s, the worldwide rush to address crises from food borne illness and catastrophic liability battles has led to a profusion of government agencies, nonprofits and for profit companies developing produce food safety standards and audit schemes, all of them competing to assist in the safe handling of fruits and vegetables. And now the implementation of the US Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) has made it mandatory for some produce growers to have food safety systems in place, where once it was all voluntary and market driven. The following videos aim to help you find a pathway through a swamp of food safety acronyms, schemes, buyer requirements, and laws.
- GAP Basics—Explains the basic components, terminology and players in the realm of produce food safety
- Voluntary vs Market Driven vs The Law—Explains the difference between buyer and FSMA requirements and who has to comply
- So Your Customer Requires a GAP Audit—The questions you need to ask and steps you need to take
Working Together to Achieve Food Safety Success—Sharing the responsibility for implementing a food safety program and achieving certification can reduce costs and provides invaluable peer learning and support. In these videos we compare group certification options, look in more detail at the USDA Group GAP pilot project.
- Certifying as a Group—Compares Group GAP and other systems for certifying as a group, and the typical structure and characteristics that make sense for each one.
- An Overview of Fair Food's USDA Group GAP Pilot—The implementation and outcomes of the Fair Food pilot project
Creating Your Food Safety Manual
A food safety manual includes a food safety plan and all the records (e.g. training and cleaning logs, self-audit checklist, etc.) and documentation (e.g. water test results, approved supplier list, mock recall record, etc.) that prove you are implementing the plan. Fair Food offers these examples and templates of plans and records for you to download. They are all in a format you can adapt and revise for your own needs. We have done our best to keep them as simple and streamlined as possible while including all the requirements necessary to successfully pass an audit.
FOOD SAFETY PLANS—The following food safety plan examples and templates have been written to comply with USDA’s Produce GAP’s Harmonized Food Safety Standard Audit (see our GAP Basics presentation for an explanation of food safety standards). Find a link to the Harmonized Food Safety Standards and the Harmonized Audit Checklists that the USDA auditors use here.
Food Safety Plan Examples:
The examples are of finished plans that cover field and harvesting operations only, post-harvest operations only, and combined field, harvesting, and post-harvest operations. You can use these as a starting point for your own plan. You can also use the sample text in the template to help you revise the text in each section of these plans so they accurately describe your own food safety program.
- Field Operations and Harvesting only—You need a plan like this if:
- You field pack all your crops and only store a few hours or
- The packing, processing, and storage of your product is done off the farm. Examples:
- You are member of a coop and deliver your product to a central aggregation point/packing house
- You sell to a processor
- Post-Harvest Operations only—You need a plan like this if:
- You have separate management for your field operations and post-harvest operations and it makes sense to have separate plans for each or
- You only manage the post-harvest operations and someone else does the growing
- Example: you manage the central aggregation point/packing house for a cooperative
- Combined Field, Harvesting and Post-Harvest Operations—You need a plan like this if:
- Your operations include growing, harvesting, packing in an area separate from the field (anything that is not harvested directly into packing materials in the field), and storing your product
CHECKLISTS AND LOGS
There are many food safety logs and checklist templates available on the internet, but many are in a format that cannot be edited. Also, in working with small-scale farms where only one or two people are managing the daily operations and food safety program, we felt it made sense to streamline logs to include multiple monitoring activities in one record. If your operation and staff is small enough, this will make sense for you. If you have a larger operation with more than one level of management, this may not be practical. We include here a selection of conventional and streamlined logs in a format that you can rearrange and revise to suit your needs. Again, sample text is included in green. Listed below are notes on logs that we have created, adapted, or streamlined.
- Animal Monitoring and Pre-Harvest Risk Assessment—Animal monitoring should begin before you plant a crop and continue until harvest. The pre-harvest risk assessment happens just before you go out to harvest a crop and includes animal monitoring. This log includes bathroom cleaning and monitoring the transport vehicle that brings product from the field. You can decide what you want to include. It doesn’t leave room for corrective action reporting, so you’ll need to use the Unusual Events/Corrective Action log for that.
- Approved Supplier List—A list of your suppliers, their contact info, and what you buy from them can be sufficient to fulfill the need for an approved supplier program. This is part of your trace back records.
- Equipment List and Cleaning Log—The harmonized standard requires a list of equipment, a cleaning schedule, and a cleaning log. This log combines all three, and you can list the cleaning method, too. In a small operation, you may be able to include the vehicle used to transport product from the field, the truck used to transport to a customer, and even the bathroom cleaning.
- Field Record—We created the field record log at the request of an Amish farmer who wanted to have manure, chemical, and fertilizer applications alongside harvest records. This way, over the years they can easily see how inputs affected outputs. If you use a smart phone or tablet, there are now apps available to record and analyze all this kind of data.
- Land Use History and Annual Risk Assessment—You can use this annually to record any risks or changes to the land you are growing on. It’s especially useful if you have multiple or changing growing locations. If you have a small operation that doesn’t change or increase much, then you can include something simpler right in your food safety plan.
- Packing and Storage Area Cleaning Log—For the areas and equipment you clean less frequently.
- Product Recall Form—This is in a flowchart format that makes it easy to follow.
- Self-Audit and Corrective Action Checklist—This self-audit combines field, harvesting, and post-harvest operations and includes a page for recording corrective and preventative actions.
- Unusual Event, Illness, and Injury Preventative and Corrective Action Log—Combines an illness and injury log with a general preventative and corrective action log
- Worker Food Safety Training Log—This log includes a list of the food safety practices and policies that should be included in the training. We recommend you have your workers read through these before signing. You can also use this as a quick training document and log for visitors.