Coordinated Audits

Question: How much does a USDA GAP audit cost in Iowa?

Third party Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification is expensive for small-scale farmers. Because of the low number of Iowa farms requiring certification, auditors come from out-of-state. The most common certification body used in Iowa at this time is the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service, and auditors will come from Illinois, Missouri or Texas. USDA GAP audits of Iowa farms can exceed $1000 per year.

There have been conversations in Iowa about training people to be state auditors to lower the travel costs associated with an audit.  However, different buyers may request audits from different certification standards and training auditors to more than one standard is prohibitive and not feasible. For example, one buyer might require a USDA GAP audit while another might require a Primus GAP audit.

Several approaches to make audits more affordable have been studied in Iowa. One approach requires neighboring farms to work together.

Called “coordinated audits”, farms in certain areas (generally within 100 miles) will work together to schedule the auditor to visit their farms in the same day or adjacent days. In northeast Iowa, an auditor could visit 2-3 small farms in a day when the farms are 30-40 miles from each other.

This effort to coordinate the auditor’s time results in the travel costs being shared between the farms. Farms practicing “audit coordination” have seen their audit costs cut in half – $500-600 per farm.

When coupled with a GAP cost-share program, where farmers can receive $400-500 in cost-share, GAP certification becomes more realistic.

For more information about coordinated audits, talk to your neighbors, or contact Teresa Wiemerslage at wiemer@iastate.edu. Most Iowa audits take place in August and September.

 

GAP Cost-share Grants Available for Iowa Growers

Iowa fruit and vegetable farmers can apply for a cost-share grant to assist with the costs of independent food safety certification of an operation’s good agricultural practices (GAPs).

The program is available through the Iowa Food Hub with support from an Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) Specialty Crop Block Grant.  The program is available to any Iowa grower.

To be eligible, growers must have a third-party audit from an approved government agency or company that verifies GAP or GHP efforts, the audit must be conducted in 2016 or 2017 and the grower must submit an application to participate in the program prior to the audit. The audit can be for farm review, field harvest and field packing activities, packing house facility, storage and transportation, and traceback. Qualified applicants may receive up to a maximum of $600 per year to cover the costs of one successful audit.

“Cost-share funds help farmers with their on-farm food safety efforts, which are critical to marketing their farm products,” said Teresa Wiemerslage, ISU Extension Regional Program Coordinator.  “I am glad we were able to secure these funds to assist our growers. Funds are available to farmers on a first-come, first-served basis.”

A business/individual is eligible to apply for reimbursement as soon as their USDA GAP audit has been approved. Applicants must fully complete the necessary application and be able to show verification of audit approval. Qualified applicants may only receive funding for one successful audit per calendar year.  Reimbursements will not be given for costs associated with a failed audit.

Participation in the GAP and GHP audit program is voluntary. The cost share program is designed to help defray some of the costs related to a successful audit.  USDA audits for Iowa produce farms have ranged in price from $525 to $1200 per year.

For more information about on-farm food safety or GAP certification, contact Teresa Wiemerslage at wiemer@iastate.edu or 563-794-0599.

GroupGAP Webinar, Feb 18

GroupGAP: USDA’s New Cooperative Approach to Farmer Food Safety Certification
Thursday, February 18
3:30 – 5:00pm ET (12:30 – 2:00pm PT)
Free! Register Now

GroupGAP is a new service (available Spring 2016) from USDA to audit farmers to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). Small farmers are feeling the pressure to get third-party certified as more buyers are requiring GAP certification, and as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) puts them under new regulatory oversight.

In GroupGAP, a food hub, support organization, or central business entity collaborates with producers to establish site-specific best practices for complying with a food safety standard. The group develops and implements a quality management system (QMS) built to an international standard that can be measured, analyzed, reviewed, and continually improved.

Come hear the experience of a few of the trailblazers – pilot Groups who have already received GroupGAP certification. Why did they seek this certification? How much did it cost? Will they keep up their certification next year? What supports are available? What makes group a good candidate for GroupGAP? What were challenges and successes?

Answers to these questions and more!
Reserve your spot – click here

PLEASE NOTE!
This session is NOT intended to give you all the details on the GroupGAP requirements from USDA. We suggests that you review the excellent USDA webinar that fills you in on that before this session. This webinar will illustrate, with a few case studies, what the GroupGAP certification experience is like, to give you a sense for the kinds of groups who have found it to be useful.

USDA GroupGAP webinar recording >>>

GroupGAP IN IOWA

The Iowa Food Hub was a GroupGAP pilot site. They learned that in order for GroupGAP to be sustainable, the group needs to have over 20 members. Iowa Food Hub is willing to be the Group Host for other farms interested in this method of GAP certification. Farms do not need to be vendors of IFH to participate. Call Teresa at 563-794-0599 for more information.

Am I Certified?

Question: If I attend an Iowa Level 1 or Level 2 GAP class, is my farm GAP certified?

No. While attending a class is a great way to learn about food safety, it does not make your farm certified. Three things need to happen in order for a farm to become “GAP-certified.”

  1. The farms need to implement an on-farm food safety program with a manual containing policies, procedures (SOPs) and logs.
  2. The farmer needs to contact a certifying auditing agency like USDA AMS, Primus, NSF or other certifying body to come to the farm and audit the farm’s food safety program. Because Iowa does not have a state GAP inspection program, auditors usually come from out-of-state and audits will cost $600-$2000 depending on the audit used.
  3. They need to pass the audit (for example, a score 80% or higher on a USDA GAP audit).

While it is highly recommended that farmers attend a Level 1 and Level 2 GAP class to learn about food safety principles and to receive assistance crafting a farm safety manual, attending class is not a requirement to become GAP certified. In fact, there are several templates available that can guide farmers through the process.

ISU Extension specialists are also available to assist with questions and to perform mock audits.

See also:

Will I be GAP certified if I come to your class?

GroupGAP helps small and mid-sized growers

GroupGAP is a new food safety certification option that will increase opportunities for the entire industry to supply and buy GAP-certified produce.  This robust certification process addresses certain challenges in complying with food safety audits, and meets the demands of the retail, food service, and institutional buying community.  The GroupGAP Audit Program will begin April 4, 2016.

GGAP partners 2015 (800x451)Iowa Food Hub was one of the 12 pilot programs for GroupGAP. Transitioning the pilot to a full program will increase the ability of small and mid-sized growers to obtain food safety certification, thereby improving market access opportunities throughout the produce industry.

“The GroupGAP program is a great example of AMS working with stakeholders to address market challenges,” said Anne Alonzo, Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator.  “The Wallace Center at Winrock International and 12 grower groups provided feedback and insight that allowed AMS to develop a robust certification process. This collaboration allowed AMS to address the unique challenges that smaller producers and food hubs face in complying with food safety audits, while also meeting the demands of the retail, food service, and institutional buying community.”

The AMS Specialty Crops Inspection Division (SCI) performs Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audits, which are voluntary audits to verify that farms are following industry-recognized food safety practices and recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Produce buyers, large and small, are increasingly requiring suppliers to be GAP certified.

GGAP certificate compThe pilot program was created because many small and mid-sized growers had trouble paying for traditional GAP audits.  Under the pilot, growers, food hubs, and cooperatives were able to work together to obtain group certification, helping them save money and leverage economies of scale in the marketplace.  This also benefited retailers and large buyers, who were better able to meet the increasing demand for local foods and broaden their base of suppliers to be more resilient in the face of supply challenges or disruptions.

The Iowa Food Hub is looking for more growers to join their group. Growers do not need to be IFH customers in order to participate. Contact Teresa at 563-794-0599 for  more information.

Learn more on the USDA GroupGAP page.

First Group GAP Certification

I was very fortunate to spend two days sitting next to Diana Endicott at a meeting of the GGAP pilot projects in Salinas, California. Her food hub has been a model for the Iowa Food Hub (IFH) since its inception and we continue to get great feedback and support from her on how to make this all work.  Congratulations to GNFF on their milestone! We are working on the IFH QMS with a goal of certification next summer.

 

From the Wallace Center Monthly Newsletter, 10/24/14.

 

Good Natured Family Farms (GNFF), a food hub located in Kansas City, has been a pioneer in a collaborative food safety protocol called Group GAP (GGAP). Based on a Quality Management System (QMS) individually designed and implemeted by a “central entity”, Group GAP is able to provide growers of all sizes with appropriate support and guidance needed to ensure compliance with food safety guidelines. GNFF and a handful of other food hubs and support organizations have been working with USDA as pilots of this innovative approach to food safety.

 

A new milestone was reached when GNFF was the first group to successfully pass their Group GAP audit. There are three parts to a USDA Group GAP audit: 1) The USDA analyzes the group’s system of oversight (codified in the QMS), ensuring that it contains the necessary procedures and plans for documentation, 2) The USDA visits the central entity to ensure that the procedures outlined in the QMS are being followed properly and 3) USDA performs some spot checks on farms within the group to make sure on-farm practices are appropriate, further verifying the proper functioning of the system of oversight. Because the organizing central entity must perform regular internal audits of the group’s farms, if USDA determines that the system is functioning properly then not all farms need to be individually audited by USDA.

 

GNFF’s group of seventeen Rich Hill farmers (5 of which were directly audited by USDA) were determined to be in compliance, and were granted a GAP certificate as a group, enabling them to sell into markets where third-party food safety certification is demanded. A hearty congratulations goes out to GNFF and their growers for this achievement, helping to pave the way for other groups interested in pursuing a Group GAP certification.

Managing GAP and Organic Certifications

Are you an organic grower managing NOP certification as well as GAPs audits? The team at New Mexico State University has developed an informative website to aid in the dynamic management of organic system plans and Good Agricultural Practices. No need to duplicate the paperwork effort – there are lots of helpful hints to share!

 

For additional information, contact Nancy Flores (naflores@nmsu.edu).

Will I be GAP certified if I come to your class?

This is a common question.

No.  You will not be GAP certified if you attend a workshop offered by ISU Extension and Outreach.  ISU Extension cannot GAP certify farms.

The GAP certification process is similar to the organic certification process.  You need to have a farm safety plan and documentation in place before a GAP auditor can visit your farm.  GAP auditors may be from the USDA or another third-party company; you decide which certifying agency depending on your buyers’ requests.  The auditor will visit your farm, review your farm safety plan and check your documentation to make sure you are doing what you said you were going to do in your plan.  GAP audits range in cost from $500-$1200.

While you can certify your farm without attending a class, the information provided by ISU Extension will make it easier for you to identify food safety risks on your farm.  Level 1 GAP discusses basic food microbiology.  Level 2 GAP gets you started on your food safety plan.  Level 3 GAP gets you out on a farm to look for farm safety risks in person.

One more item to remember.  One of the Good Agricultural Practices is regular training for yourself and your employees.  An attendance certificate is an important piece of documentation to include in your food safety binder.  Be sure to ask for an attendance certificate for any trainings you attend!

Teresa

GAP Cost-share Grants Available for Iowa Growers

Iowa fruit and vegetable farmers can apply for a cost-share grant to assist with the costs of independent food safety certification of an operation’s good agricultural practices (GAPs).

The program is available through the Northeast Iowa Food & Farm (NIFF) Coalition with support from an Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) Specialty Crop Block Grant.  The program is available to any Iowa grower.

To be eligible, growers must have a third-party audit from an approved government agency or company that verifies GAP or GHP efforts, the audit must be conducted in 2013 or 2014 and the grower must submit an application to participate in the program prior to the audit. The audit can be for farm review, field harvest and field packing activities, packing house facility, storage and transportation, and traceback. Qualified applicants may receive up to a maximum of $450 per year to cover the costs of one successful audit.

“Cost-share funds help farmers with their on-farm food safety efforts, which are critical to marketing their farm products,” said Teresa Wiemerslage, ISU Extension Regional Program Coordinator and project director.  “I am glad we were able to secure these funds to assist our growers.  Funds are available to farmers on a first-come, first-served basis.”

A business/individual is eligible to apply for reimbursement as soon as their USDA GAP audit has been approved. Applicants must fully complete the necessary application and be able to show verification of audit approval. Qualified applicants may only receive funding for one successful audit per calendar year.  Reimbursements will not be given for costs associated with a failed audit.

Participation in the GAP and GHP audit program is voluntary. The cost share program is designed to help defray some of the costs related to a successful audit.  USDA audits for Iowa produce farms have ranged in price from $525 to $1200 per year.

For more information about on-farm food safety or GAP certification, contact Teresa Wiemerslage at wiemer@iastate.edu or 563-794-0599.  Visit www.iowafreshfood.com for application materials.

GAP Cost-share Grants Available for Iowa Growers

Iowa fruit and vegetable farmers can apply for a cost-share grant to assist with the costs of independent food safety certification of an operation’s good agricultural practices (GAPs).

The program is available through the Northeast Iowa Food & Farm (NIFF) Coalition with support from an Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) Specialty Crop Block Grant. The program is available to any Iowa grower.

To be eligible, growers must have a third-party audit from an approved government agency or company that verifies GAP or GHP efforts, the audit must be conducted in 2013 or 2014 and the grower must submit an application to participate in the program prior to the audit. The audit can be for farm review, field harvest and field packing activities, packing house facility, storage and transportation, and traceback. Qualified applicants may receive up to a maximum of $450 per year to cover the costs of one successful audit.

“Cost-share funds help farmers with their on-farm food safety efforts, which are critical to marketing their farm products,” said Teresa Wiemerslage, ISU Extension Regional Program Coordinator and project director. “I am glad we were able to secure these funds to assist our growers. Funds are available to farmers on a first-come, first-served basis.”

A business/individual is eligible to apply for reimbursement as soon as their USDA GAP audit has been approved. Applicants must fully complete the necessary application and be able to show verification of audit approval. Qualified applicants may only receive funding for one successful audit per calendar year. Reimbursements will not be given for costs associated with a failed audit.

Participation in the GAP and GHP audit program is voluntary. The cost share program is designed to help defray some of the costs related to a successful audit. USDA audits for Iowa produce farms have ranged in price from $525 to $1200 per year.

For more information about on-farm food safety or GAP certification, contact Teresa Wiemerslage at wiemer@iastate.edu or 563-794-0599. Visit www.iowafreshfood.com for application materials.

Look Up

Most small farms I work with have packing areas on the farm.  The packing areas range from a simple table to more elaborate set-ups with brush washers, sinks and packing lines.  No matter how your packing house is arranged, take a few minutes to look up to assess any risks above your head.  Is there anything that could fall into the food?

I was recently at a farm where I saw two items of concern when it comes to managing the risk of product contamination from overhead.  Can you see them?

In this photo, the cleaning and sanitizing chemicals should not be on a shelf above the packing area in case of a spill.  Chemicals should be contained in a separate cabinet or in a labeled tote on the floor.

It doesn’t show up well in this photo, but it was clear there was a bird problem in this room at one time.  While the bird has been removed, it left behind droppings on the framing that were visible from our view on the floor.  This area should be cleaned before processing any produce this season.

I’ve been asked about the exposed wood (studs) on the internal walls of this packing room.  As long as the surfaces are clean and don’t show any build-up of dust or evidence of rot, the exposed wood should not be a significant risk.  This farmer may want to consider protecting those wood surfaces behind sinks and wash areas.

The final overhead risk to examine in a packing shed is the lighting.  What happens if a bulb breaks?  Are the light bulbs enclosed?  This farmer has sleeves over his bulbs to prevent contamination from broken glass.

How have you managed overhead risks on your farm?

Teresa

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