Aug 29, 2018
Understanding the USDA’s GAP audit program

Growing specialty crops in today’s marketplace is becoming more complex.

Farmers cannot simply plant a crop, nurture it to maturity, harvest it, and get it to market. They also must incorporate a culture of food safety into their operations to gain market access. Whether it is acquiring an understanding of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule or ensuring their compliance with buyers’ demands for food safety audit verification, producers are increasingly being required to spend additional time and resources on food safety. This is the case for growers of all sizes, from a small family farm that sells products to a local supermarket to a producer who grows and distributes products nationally and internationally.  Being able to assess and mitigate food safety issues is just as important as understanding how much fertilizer to use or when to harvest a crop.

With that in mind, USDA recently advanced its USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) food safety verification program in two very significant ways. The changes to the GAP program streamline food safety requirements for the specialty crop industry and provide new options for specialty crops producers to attain food safety verification to the FSMA Produce Safety Rule or a Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) benchmarked audit to access markets. The advancements to the USDA GAP program build on USDA’s long-standing work with the Produce GAP Harmonization Initiative.

Alignment with the FSMA Produce Safety Rule

First, in June USDA and FDA jointly announced the alignment of the USDA Harmonized GAP audit program with the technical requirements of the FSMA Produce Safety Rule. This alignment provides producers with an opportunity to better understand how their operations align with FDA’s regulatory requirements under FSMA and leverage the USDA food safety audits they already use to also demonstrate their FSMA conformance to buyers.  More information about the USDA GAP’s alignment to FSMA  is in the USDA Aligns Harmonized GAP Program with FDA Food Safety Rule Frequently Asked Questions on the AMS website.

GFSI Technical Equivalency

In a second major evolution of the USDA GAP program, in August the USDA Harmonized GAP Plus+ Program achieved GFSI technical equivalency. This recognition by GFSI opens markets for producers who use the USDA Harmonized GAP Plus+ audit program to meet the needs of buyers that require food safety verification to one of the GFSI benchmarked food safety programs. More information about the GFSI technical equivalency of the USDA GAP program is in the USDA Harmonized GAP Plus+ Audit Service Questions and Answers on the website.

USDA offers a variety of voluntary GAP audit services, from the updated Harmonized GAP Plus+ to commodity-specific audits for mushrooms, tomatoes, leafy greens, and cantaloupes. To make all of our services accessible to producers of all sizes, we also offer GroupGAP, a service option that allows producers and others to pool resources to undergo USDA GAP certification.

If you’d like to see how the USDA Harmonized GAP Plus+ Audit Program, or any of our other GAP services, can work for you, contact the Specialty Crops Inspection Division, Audit Services Branch at 202-720-5021 or email [email protected]. You can also get information on all our GAP services on the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) & Good Handling Practices (GHP) page of the AMS website.

Ken Petersen
Chief, Audit Services Branch, Specialty Crops Inspection DivisionUSDA Agricultural Marketing Service

75 Applewood Drive, Suite A
P.O. Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345
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