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What are GAPS?
GAPs (Good Agricultural Practices) are production standards that were developed to reduce the risk of contaminating agricultural products with disease-causing microbes or other harmful materials. The standards target potential sources of contamination in the production chain, including water, soil, animals, people, and equipment. GAPs cover the farm operation and production activities up through field packing. An additional, related set of standards (sometimes referred to as GHPs, or Good Handling Practices) comes into play for farms that have on-site packing and storage facilities. The produce industry, motivated by concerns about food safety, has been the driving force behind GAPs.
Growers who adopt good agricultural practices can go through a voluntary auditing process to verify that they follow the standards. Successful completion of an audit results in GAP-certification for the grower. The USDA and a number of private companies offer auditing services, for a fee. However, audits differ depending on the commodity and the organization conducting the audit. As a vegetable that can be eaten raw, broccoli is considered a “leafy green” for food safety purposes, thus higher standards (and a stricter audit) is necessary.
Why should you get GAP certified?
Although the auditing process is currently voluntary, most produce buyers will only do business with GAP-certified growers. Because the industry demands it, broccoli growers need to be GAP-certified in order to be commercially competitive. Furthermore, under the Food Safety Modernization Act, safe production standards will become law in the near future.
There are some other benefits to becoming GAP-certified. Many auditors keep a list of certified growers in an online database that is searchable by commodity and region. That visibility may result in new customers. Also, adopting GAPs standards can help you streamline your operation and produce better quality product.