Not all GAPs are the same

As food systems become more globalized, the need for food safety becomes even more important.

Published on: Mar 31, 2011

Growers are writing Good Agricultural Practices manuals for their farms and having them certified by a third party. These manuals contain detailed accountings of how procedures are carried out to maintain safe food from the field until the produce is shipped from the farm. The goal is to document many of the common sense things farmers do to ensure a safe food supply.

There are several different "brands" of GAP certification each with their own special requirements and certification agency. Primus GAP is one example of a brand of GAP certification. A particular retailer or processor may not accept your product unless you are Primus GAP certified. USDA GAP is another brand of certification. If you sell produce to the USDA, you need to be USDA GAP certified. The type of GAP certification required is wholly the choice of the produce-buying company. In some cases, a grower may need two or more certifications to sell to several different buyers. It is best to ask your produce buyer what certification they want before even starting a GAP manual.

All certifications cost time and money. You need to gather the information ahead of time and maybe adjust handling practices. You need to keep more records of your management. You need to pay to have the auditor spend a day with you on farm. The total process may cost as much as $2,000 in actual money and more than that in devoting time to the process. If you sell to a retailer or processor, good communication is the key to effectively meeting the certification needs of your buyer. Ask them what brand of GAP certification they want. In many cases, there are only marginal differences between GAP certifications, but they are different and not interchangeable.

One of the biggest points of confusion thus far has been whether or not there is a single GAP certifier endorsed by the federal government that is good for every producer in every situation. Sadly there is none. Ask your produce buyer what certification they want before beginning to assemble a GAP manual.

If a grower has specific questions about GAPs or has difficulty tailoring GAPs to their farm, they are welcome to contact the Agrifood Safety Work Group at gaps@msu.edu  or call (517) 788-4292. The MSU Extension GAPS web site is also available for reference.

Source: Phil Tocco, Michigan State University Extension