A GAPS Tour of the Broccoli Farm

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What will auditors find when they arrive on your farm? A copy of the food safety plan and related documentation will inform them of farm policies and standard operating procedures, and logs will document activities such as worker training, cleaning and maintenance, water testing results, and mock recall efforts.

All members of the work crew have had food safety training in a language they understand, and they know and follow the standard operating procedures. Because personal hygiene is critically important, clean and well-stocked toilets and hand-washing facilities are located within a quarter mile of fields and packinghouses. Tables for meals and breaks are situated outside of work areas to avoid contaminating the crop or attracting pests. A first aid kit is available for treating and covering minor injuries. Posted signs remind the work crew and visitors to wash hands and to stay away from fields and packing facilities when they are sick. Workers arrive at the farm each day wearing clean clothing, and they wash their hands thoroughly before entering work areas, whether it’s first thing in the morning or after a break.

A healthy broccoli crop is growing in fields that are located a safe distance from potential sources of contamination, such as grazing animals, raw manure, cured compost, chemical storage areas, and septic tanks or leach fields. Sites prone to flooding and runoff, both of which can carry contaminants, were not even considered for production. Raw manure is not used on the broccoli fields; the practice is not only impractical at a commercial scale, it is also unacceptable for “leafy greens” (including broccoli) that can be eaten uncooked. For similar reasons, fields are monitored for signs of visits by wildlife; their feces can carry human pathogens, so reasonable measures are taken to keep them away

Water used for irrigation is tested regularly to make sure that it meets the water quality standards for leafy greens. Water that comes into direct contact with broccoli crowns – whether in the form of overhead irrigation, spray treatments, cooling water, or ice – is of potable (drinking water) quality. A map of your farm, including water sources, allows contamination risks to be identified and dealt with proactively.

At harvest time, workers put on clean protective gear (gloves, hats, and aprons or smocks) and carry clean knives and totes into the field. They cut stalks of mature heads to a buyer-specified length and slice off the leaves, then place the broccoli into their totes. To prevent contamination with soil during stacking, harvest totes are not set directly on the ground; instead, they are carried by a harvest partner or with the use of a harness. Full containers are returned to the harvest vehicle and exchanged for fresh ones. When workers exit the field for a break, they leave their harvest gear on a clean, covered work surface.

The harvest vehicle carries covered boxes of freshly harvested broccoli crowns to a packinghouse. Broccoli moves through this facility in a set route that starts with time in a hydrocooler or cold room to remove field heat. Sanitizer levels in hydrocooler water are monitored to ensure that concentrations remain adequate for preventing cross contamination. Crowns are then packed into boxes and labeled with the name and address of the farm, harvest date, and identifiers for field of origin, harvest crew, packinghouse, and packing crew. In the event of an outbreak of food-borne illness, these labels will allow quick identification of the source and initiation of a recall. A good labeling system also makes good business sense: it helps keep track of how many cases of broccoli were sold and may be useful for addressing quality and other issues unrelated to food safety. Packed, labeled boxes are top-iced and stored in a clean, 32°F cold room (off the floor and at least 12” from walls) until it is time to transport them to the buyer in a refrigerated truck.

At the end of the day, all surfaces that contact broccoli – knives, containers, tables, tanks, conveyors, etc. – are rinsed of superficial debris, scrubbed with detergent, rinsed with potable water, and sanitized. Buildings, equipment, and vehicles are also cleaned daily. Trash and cull piles and are moved far from fields and packing/cooling areas to keep pests away from the broccoli.

The auditors and your customers see a productive, efficient operation that produces quality broccoli while making food safety a priority.

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