Think Good Agricultural Practices Prior to Spring Planting

Posted on 03/10/2010 at 12:00 AM by Diane Huntrods

Seventy-six million cases of foodborne illness occur annually in the United States, resulting in 375,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths.

Recent national outbreaks and recalls include the following:

  • 2003 - green onions served at Chi Chi's restaurants
  • 2004 - sliced tomatoes served at Sheet's stores
  • 2006 - California bagged spinach
  • 2006 - lettuce served at Taco Bell and Taco John restaurants
  • 2008 - cantaloupes from Honduras
  • 2008 - tomatoes and jalapeno peppers

The rise in foodborne illnesses is attributed to a number of things including changing consumer preferences, changing food systems and more immune-suppressed people. This increase results in increased focus on good agricultural practices to verify that farms are producing fruits and vegetables in the safest manner possible.

Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) third-party audits are being utilized by the retail and food service industry to verify their suppliers are in conformance to specific agricultural best practices. Since 1999, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has been actively involved with the produce industry, offering auditing services throughout the food chain to verify that best practices are being followed.

AMS, in partnership with state Departments of Agriculture, offers a voluntary, audit-based program that verifies adherence to the recommendations made in the Food and Drug Administration’s Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.

The Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices Audit Verification Program is broken down into three major sections: Good Agricultural Practices, which examines farm practices; Good Handling Practices, which concentrates on packing facilities, storage facilities and wholesale distribution centers; and Food Defense protocols utilized throughout the food chain.

Critical areas that require food safety control measures include:

  • Site Selection
  • Water
  • Soil
  • Hands and Health
  • Equipment and Facilities

Many state Departments of Agriculture, Extension systems and industry associations are offering spring trainings on Good Agricultural Practices. For more information, visit the AgMRC Food Safety page, or the following links.

USDA Audit Checklist

Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Inspection Offices


Categories: Local/Regional Foods