GAP Certification 101
How to Prepare For and Get Through GAP Certification
Good agricultural practices are paramount for the health a well being of your customers. Which is the reason for farmers to get GAP certification. Mostly, the need is market-driven as most customers prefer buying certified produce to avoid illness and microbial hazards and there are some restaurants that are requiring that certification of their producers. Also, growers are getting certified to avoid lawsuits and to comply with government regulations.
However, the GAP certification process can be daunting and overwhelming. If you learn how to prepare it will make the process seamless, save you money and be successful.
The following GAP certification 101 guide contains informative information necessary to help you prepare and get through a GAP certification.
What is GAP certification?
Good agricultural practices (GAP) certification is a voluntary program that verifies that sound food safety practices are being used. It does that through an audit of a food products' growing, handling, packaging, and distribution. It helps reassure the customers, and public, that the farm handles food products in a way that reduces microbial and other potential hazards. GAP certification targets potential sources of contamination in the production chain, water, soil, animals, people, and equipment.
If you adopt good agricultural practices, you can go through the voluntary auditing process for verification. You'll get GAP certification if you complete the audit. And though it's not mandatory, there are many reasons to get a GAP certification, such as:
Economic risk reduction GAP certification reassures food safety, and that helps in reducing the risk of food-borne diseases. The reduction helps prevent the risk of large economic losses like damage to farm reputation, drop in sales, and potential lawsuits.
To adhere to standards GAP certification will help you adhere to the food safety standards throughout the year. It allows you to continue producing, packaging, and distributing safe goods. Also, it shows you can take care of farm employees and comply with government standards.
To increase your market Though a GAP certification is voluntary, many buyers expect you to have the certification. Buyers prefer buying from you if you get GAP certification, especially international buyers. In turn, your market will increase, increasing the overall business success.
To ensure a high-quality product If you get GAP certification, you can label your products as government-approved. The label will reassure your clients that your products are high-quality and safe for consumption. Also, companies handle GAP-certified products well in the supply chain to maintain the quality of the products.
To increase customer loyalty and trust Customers appreciate your efforts to deliver quality and safe products. A GAP certification helps customers to verify that your product is safe and that your farm adheres to the standards of food safety and taking care of employees. They will be loyal to your goods, and you'll have a better client retention ratio.
Who is eligible for GAP certification
Produce producers and suppliers are eligible for certification. In the U.S. you may be able to get certified for free. Take a look at your states eligibility.
How To Prepare For GAP Certification
You need to adequately prepare for GAP certification before requesting an audit. It helps you undergo a flawless audit which is crucial for a successful process. You need to prepare in terms of the following;
1. Timing of GAP Audit
Start by identifying the best time to schedule an audit. You can time the audit to get the most out of the 12 months that the certificate will be valid. The ideal time is when you're harvesting the largest variety of crops. But remember, if there is a second visit, your certificate will not be valid until the second visit. So, schedule your audit at least two weeks before your desired audit date.
2. Prepare your food safety plan/manual for GAP certification
A food safety plan is a compilation of documents, records, and policies, and you should implement it early in the growing season. It details your growing and handling process and identifies areas of risk and how to address them. Early implementation will allow you to change the plan and gather all the necessary documents and records for the audit. You can submit a copy of the food safety plan when scheduling and applying for the audit. A food safety plan will streamline and enhance the GAP certification process and make up most of the food safety manual.
3. Food safety plan/ manual components
Table of contents; It matches the numbering of the checklist questions and is an essential tool for compiling and assembling the plan.
Checklist question; After the table of content, you will get a checklist of questions for the scope. The questions are divided into sub-sections that match the checklist numbering. Each section has standards and records or supporting documents that support the questions.
Assessments; Assessment focuses on specific areas like food safety defense, water system, animal activity, and more in the checklist. Assessment helps develop policies, procedures, and corrective actions on your farm. Standards; standard operating procedures detail the concerns, policies, step-by-step procedures, corrective action, relevant records and supporting documents, and additional resources.
Records; A record is proof of activity performance and results obtained, such as water testing results or a log sheet documenting cleaning sanitation facilities. They help you prove you're doing what you say you do.
Supporting documentation; Supporting documents help validate your response to a checklist question. They include assessment notes, traceability system field maps, the flow of food maps, pesticide logbooks and labels, training certificates, and other relevant supporting documents.
4. Food safety officer
Appointing a food safety officer is a crucial preparation tip. It could be the owner, operator, co-operator, or staff member. The officer should be familiar with food safety practices and be available during the official audit.
5. Prepare paperwork and documents
Correct paperwork/documents are essential for the successful completion of GAP certification. It will increase your chances of passing the audit and streamline the process. You can check the third-party checklist to know the documents/paperwork that you need. So before you schedule an audit, ensure all the documents are correct.
6. Internal audit
Conducting an internal audit before scheduling the official audit is essential. The food safety officer can run the internal audit and provide a report. As you perform the practice run, check the audit checklist and take the measures needed.
Walk through each of your fields' workers and operations, answering the checklist questions. Are they following the food safety practices they learned in training? How clean are your packing shed and facilities? Is the water of appropriate microbial quality? Are the animal mitigation measures working?
Conducting a pre-audit walkthrough will help you improve your chances of passing the first audit. So, ensure you address all the checklist questions and have everything before the audit.
A pre-audit walkthrough checklist can have the following;
General GAP practices (applicable to all stages) · All workers have been trained in proper health, hygiene handling practices, and other procedures. · Eating is only allowed in designated areas. · Availability of a first aid kit and emergency contact. · No smoking in production and handling areas. · Proper hygiene measures like washing hands after using the restroom.
Pre-plant stage · Identify any known risk associated with the crop you're growing. · Plant material for plant propagation is maintained and stored appropriately before planting. · If possible, ensure the production farm is located somewhere other than where there is a possible runoff from livestock. · Flats of seeds and transplants are clean and free from contamination.
Production stage · Equipment and tools for field preparation are not the sources of contamination. · Soil amendments have been applied 120 days before the harvest. · Testing production water for generics in different stages of production. · Keep outdoor and indoor spaces clean to prevent rodent habitat. · Proper measures to deter or exclude wildlife. · No domesticated animals in production and packaging areas.
Harvest stage · Harvest tools and equipment are cleaned and sanitized before use. · Harvest machinery is in good form to prevent glass breakage. · Harvest tools are free from contamination. · Products showing signs of contamination are discarded or not harvested.
Post-harvest handling stage · Handle the products appropriately to avoid contamination. · Take measures to avoid contamination of packing boxes and containers. · Transport cars are clean and maintained to ensure a cold chain to the market. · Remove all dirt, mud, and debris from the product before packing. · If you put your product on the ice, monitor the water to ensure it contains zero detectable generic E. coli.
6. GAP certification cost
GAP certification costs vary depending on various factors like administrative fees and paperwork. Also, the distance the auditor will travel to your farm will determine the cost.
You can reduce the payment for the auditor's travel by teaming up with other nearby farms to combine the auditor's trip into one. You'll share the fee among those farms, saving you money.
It would help if you prepared the finances before the official audit. Preparing the budget will help you avoid the last-minute rush or taking high-interest loans to pay for the services.
7. Readying the farm for the audit
An audit manual will tell you how to carry out a food safety plan and the appropriate documentation. Therefore, you must prepare by implementing what the manual says by putting into place all the specific practices and records. The following list is some of the areas you need to address;
Test all water sources and take corrective treatment measures if warranted.
Implement fencing if livestock is next to your crop production to avoid the risk of contamination.
Properly store and contain the manure.
Ensure a minimum of 120 days before harvest using raw manure. And if you're using composted manure, document the turning, temperature monitoring, and mixing to guarantee that the manure is actively composed.
Monitor your production area for wildlife and implement deterrence measures.
Launch a rodent control program in packing areas and other essential areas.
Buy and use harvest containers and pack products that meet standards.
Establish a way to cover and protect the product from harvest to transport.
Develop your traceability system.
Set up sanitation units, hand washing stations, and designated eating areas.
How To Get Through GAP certification
After preparing, follow these steps to get GAP certification;
1. Submit an application
The first step of earning a GAP certification is applying. You must submit the documents two weeks before the expected audit date. The application contains the following:
· Request to schedule an audit
· Copy of your farm's food safety manual
· Contact information of the food safety officer
· Participation Agreement
2. An initial audit
By practicing the above preparation practices and procedures, you must ensure that your firm is ready for the initial audit. And since the auditor will question the employees, review the policies, and alert them about the audit.
The auditor will visit your farm to complete the audit that involves a thorough farm review, assessment of the harvesting and packing activities, and general questions. They can ask questions about food safety programs, traceability, and recall procedures for food. Also, they will ask about employee hygiene and health, chemical use, and other farming practices.
The auditor uses a government-issued checklist to assess your farm's performance. You'll need a high success rate of about 80% to pass the audit and get the GAP certification.
3. Second audit visit
A second visit may not be necessary if you pass the first visit. However, the auditor can return for a verification visit. The aim is to ensure your farm complies with the standards daily.
Further, if the initial audit was unsuccessful, the auditor returns for a second visit to give you a chance to pass. If you pass the audit tests, you'll get a GAP certification valid for one year.
4. Update your food labels
After earning your GAP certificating, you can update your food labels to show your farm's success and professionalism. It will show that your product is safe and verified, improving sales and increasing customer loyalty.
Food safety is an extremely important issue in the food industry. The increase in concerns about foodborne illness and economic losses has motivated growers to adopt good agriculture practices (GAP) voluntarily. GAP is essential in reducing microbial contamination and improving food safety systems.
However, buyers' demand will only increase if you take measures to improve food safety on your farm. It would help if you showed the consumers that farm produce is grown with GAP practices. GAP certification is the only way to show that you follow appropriate food practices on your farm. The above information will help you successfully prepare and get through with GAP certification.