Aug 10, 2016
Considerations before beginining GroupGAP Certification

Many fresh produce growers who need food safety certification in order to sell to certain buyers have been trying to find a more streamlined, less expensive approach to individual Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) Certification. Recently, a number of farmers have begun exploring a group food safety certification process, dubbed GroupGAP. While this may be a fit for some groups of growers, there are significant things to consider before entering the process.

GroupGAP is a process by which a number of growers can get certified under the same GAP Certification. A number of key components are needed by the group to ensure the group is effectively working to employ good agricultural practices. These include an organization to coordinate the group, a quality management system the coordinating organization and the group operate under, and at least two trained internal inspectors serve as technical service providers and inspectors for the group.

The coordinating organization really is the backbone of a GroupGAP certification. They handle the recordkeeping of the group and ensure the quality management system is consistently applied. They also help coordinate internal audits, unannounced surveillance visits and ensure adequate information flows among members of the group when it comes to sharing appropriate technologies to meet GAP requirements. It is important the coordinating organization be separate enough from the group to ensure an unbiased assessment of the group. Because of this, having a group member serve in this capacity may not be an ideal choice.

The quality management system is a series of policies and procedures about how the group functions. It includes procedures for inclusion in the group, how internal auditing will be performed, what happens if a group member fails an audit, and other key components important to the function of the group. The quality management system needs to be certified through an audit for the group to be successfully GAP certified.

Finally, the coordinating organization must maintain at least two internal auditors. One auditor counsels the farm in getting them audit-ready via an initial educational visit, while the other auditor actually audits the farm against GAP standards and conducts the unannounced surveillance visits. It’s important to understand that even though only a subset of farms in a group may beGAP audited by a third party, all farms in a group are audited internally at least twice.

As you can see, there are a lot of internal checks and balances to ensure all members of a group are delivering on the promise of safe produce. It isn’t clear how much time and money are required to successfully implement a GroupGAP program, or even if this is less or more than the traditional GAP certification. Research is currently ongoing with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine whether the process actually saves the group money.

GroupGAP is now available to all growers. If you would like more information on GroupGAP, or have general questions on implementing good food safety practices on your farm, contact Michigan State University Extension’s Agrifood Safety Workgroup at 517-788-4292 or [email protected].

For more information, visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

Phil Tocco, Michigan State University

Source: Michigan State University Extension

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