GAP Audits Bring New Market Opportunities for Fruit & Vegetable Producers

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I know that food safety in vegetable production is not the most exciting or appreciated topic among fruit and vegetable producers. As a producer of small fruits and vegetables myself, I will admit I have not had the best attitude about food safety legislation such as FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) and I have not been very supportive of USDA GAP Certification (Good Agricultural Practices) in the past. It is one thing to be trained in GAPs practices, but quite another to go to the expense of undergoing an audit. Like many farmers, I don’t like paperwork, it is hard to change farming practices (especially when “the government” is the source of why we have to), and if I’m honest I just don’t like for others to tell me how I need to run my own farm. However, another reality is that there is a lot opportunity, even for smaller sized producers to take farm production to the next level by undergoing USDA GAP or USDA GAP Harmonized Certification.

What are GAP Audits?

By definition, “Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audits are voluntary audits that verify fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored to minimize risks of microbial safety hazards. GAP audits verify adherence to the recommendations made in the US Food and Drug Administrations Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables and industry recognized food safety practices.”   They may also be referred to as “Third-party GAP Audits”. There are several different types of GAP Audits. Two of the most common are the “USDA GAP Audit” and the “USDA Harmonized GAP Audit”. GAP Audits are completed by the farmers annually. Basically, GAP audits ensure that farmers have developed food safety production plans, and also make sure that they are following these plans on the farm.

When are GAP Audits Required?

The requirement for farmers to undergo a GAP audit is market driven. In other words, the policies of the entities purchasing produce from farmers (store, school system, etc.) require farmers to be GAP audited to do business with them. For example, many grocery stores require farmers that sell to them to have undergone a USDA GAP or USDA Harmonized GAP Audit. USDA GAP Audit is also required for farmers that wish to sell produce to schools and institutions that receive federal funding from USDA for purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables.

How Completing GAP Audits  May Benefit the Farm?

A farmer that chooses to complete a GAP Audit may gain access to many different markets that they did not have access to before going through an audit. Completing a USDA GAP or USDA Harmonized GAP Audit may prove very beneficial even to smaller fruit and vegetable farms. This may be just what is needed to take a farming operation from a small hobby operation to a sustainable farm business. Across Western North Carolina, there have been many farms that have benefitted tremendously from completing a USDA GAP Audit or a USDA Harmonized GAP Audit. Many of these farms were able to greatly increase production and profit as a result. The main reason that many farms in WNC have found success is that there aren’t that many farms that have been willing to complete audits, but there continues to be a high demand for “local” food in our area.

How Hard is it to Complete a GAP Audit?

Although the answer to this question can vary depending upon the required audit and the circumstances surround each individual farm, it is probably not as difficult to undergo a GAP Audit as most would think. If you would like to explore specifics for your farm, contact N.C. Cooperative Extension of Yancey County. We have a great specialists through NC State Extension that can be of assistance. Not only that, but there is also considerable cost share available to offset the cost of GAP Audits through the North Carolina Department of Agriculture (NCDA).

If you are a fruit or vegetable producer in Yancey County and if you would like to know more about GAP Audits, contact David Davis ( at the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Yancey County Center by calling (828) 682-6186.