What is the GAPs Program?
The Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) concept was outlined in the 1998 Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables published by the Food and Drug Administration. In 1999, the National GAPs Program was established in the Department of Food Science at Cornell University with a goal to reduce microbial risks through the implementation of good agricultural practices on farms and in packinghouses.
The program has developed a broad range of educational materials that are used throughout the US and internationally to assist fresh produce growers with understanding the concepts of good agricultural and management practices and implementing
these food safety practices on the farm to reduce food safety risks.
Currently, a network of Extension collaborators at 26 Land-Grant Universities adapts this education to their specific regions and commodities.
What’s happening in New York State?
Though the National GAPs Program had existed since 1999, interest in it was minimal until the 2006 spinach outbreak. After this event, CCE educators began receiving more inquiries from growers regarding the implementation of GAPs and meeting the requirements of fresh produce buyers.
A collaborative effort between CCE educators, Robert Hadad and Craig Kahlke, Betsy Bihn, National GAPs Program coordinator and auditors from the Department of Agriculture and Markets led by Bill Lyons has resulted in a productive outreach program for New York fruit and vegetable growers. This three day workshop series provides growers with:
· Current information about fresh produce safety including GAPs
· Assistance in developing a farm food safety plan
· An opportunity to participate in a mock farm audit with auditors from the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets.
To date, four workshops have been conducted throughout New York State, resulting in over 80% of the growers having their written farm food safety plans more than half completed. Much of the project’s success depends on a strong working relationship between campus, regional teams and the NYS Dept. of Agriculture and Markets and input from Extension educators such as Chuck Bornt in the Capital District. (The photo above shows growers developing their GAPS plans at a recent workshop.)
Funding from the Northeast Risk Management Association and a special Smith-Lever grant provides growers with a hands-on opportunity to write their own unique farm food safety plan and develop a record-keeping system that is needed to successfully pass an audit. Not every grower may need an audit but with an impending FDA rule that could result in food safety regulations, every grower, regardless of size should understand produce food safety practices and have a written farm food safety plan.
Betsy Bihn, National GAPs coordinator states, “The project is a stellar example of a dynamic collaboration that benefits all fresh produce growers in New York State as well as consumers who enjoy the bounty of New York’s agricultural industry.”
The GAPs Program also provides an online course to assist growers with understanding GAPs, writing a farm food safety plan, and implementing food safety practices on the farm. Visit the GAPS website for more information.