UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Shoppers will continue to see the Fresh Local Produce sign in supermarkets, but stores will increasingly require growers to show proof of good agricultural practices, according to Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences researchers.
Good agricultural practices -- GAPs -- are food-safety standards that reduce the risk of on-farm produce contamination, according to Daniel Tobin, a doctoral candidate in Agricultural and Extension Education and the principal investigator in the study. GAPs include recommendations for safe irrigation methods, use of raw and composted animal manure, worker health and hygiene, post-harvest handling practices and traceability procedures.
On-farm, food-safety measures are critical, Tobin noted. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 48 million foodborne illnesses, including 3,000 deaths, occur each year in the United States. Previous research indicates that there is a rising number of reported outbreaks in fresh produce.
For Pennsylvania produce growers to maintain wholesale market opportunities, they will have to put forth substantial effort to comply with and verify their on-farm, food-safety practices, the researchers reported in recent issues of Food Control and the Journal of Extension.
"Growers, therefore, will need GAP training and educational materials," Tobin said. "General training about potential on-farm, food-safety hazards and preventative measures no longer will be adequate. To achieve maximum impact, the curriculum must focus on implementing and documenting GAPs so growers will be prepared to pass a GAP audit.
"In response, supermarkets have been implementing policies that require their fresh produce suppliers to attend training workshops on farm food safety and/or to verify compliance with food-safety standards through fee-based, third-party certification. In TPC an independent, third-party auditor conducts an on-site inspection to determine whether a supplier’s practices and procedures comply with a certain set of standards, such as GAPs."
Produce growers who need to verify GAP conformity through third-party compliance can select among several audit agencies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service, in association with state departments of agriculture, offers a voluntary audit program that growers can use to verify on-farm food-safety practices. Private companies also offer audit services, but their GAP standards and documentation requirements can vary from company to company.