Our program can help you incorporate basic food safety practices into your farm. If you are already scaled to distribute wholesale, we offer step-by-step guidance on obtaining a USDA GAP Certification.

Throughout the year, we provide a variety of workshops that help explain the complex world of food safety.


On-Farm Risk Assessments

A member of our food safety team will help you identify any food safety risks. The consultant will suggest appropriate mitigation measures to bring your operation into compliance with food safety best practices.


Food Safety Plans

Our team works closely with farms to help translate, update, and personalize Food Safety Plans depending on the farm’s goals: employee training, complying with a buyer request, or getting ready for a GAP audit.


USDA GAP Certification

If you are ready to get GAP certified, we will provide both of the services above AND be with you every step of the way through the audit process. Before audit day, we will perform a mock audit, help you get all the documentation you need, and otherwise make sure you are 100% prepared for your audit!

GAP Certification Process

If you have decided it is the right time for your farm to go through the USDA GAP Audit process, allot at least 2-3 months for preparation. Check the links to the right for all the initial steps you’ll need to take.

Having our team by your side as you go through this process is really invaluable. Use our staff expertise to help ease this process!


  • Choose and apply for your audit date early in the year! You have to demonstrate harvest on audit day, so choose a date you will have the crop you want on your certificate ready to harvest.
  • Apply for the NC or SC cost share! Do this early as well, states tend to run out of money before the end of the year, so you want to get your name on the list. Financial help is only available your first and second year of certification.
  • Fill out the SC-430 if it is your first year of certification. The USDA must have processed this form and assigned your farm and billing number before the auditor (from NCDA) will come to the farm for an audit.
  • Educate yourself on GAP requirements. See CFSA’s educational offerings, attend a PSA Grower training, or find some other source of formal GAP training. One person on your farm must have formal GAP training prior to the audit. Also, familiarize yourself with the USDA GAP rulebook (“the Standard”).

Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)

About FSMA

 FSMA became law in 2011, and it made sweeping changes to how the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the U.S. food supply. It gives FDA authority over some produce farming, and added new requirements for many businesses that make or handle food.


About the Interactive FSMA Guide

This interactive guide leads you through a series of questions to help you figure out whether your farm or food business is affected by federal food safety rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act and if so, how it is affected.

 The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and the Local Food Safety Collaborative have developed this interactive guide for:

  • small-scale US farms,
  • farm cooperatives,
  • produce packing houses,
  • food hubs,
  • food manufacturers,
  • food distributors,
  • on-farm food processors,
  • and other food businesses serving markets for local and regional foods.

FSMA Produce Rule Flowchart

This flowchart leads you through a series of questions to help you figure out whether your farm/food business is affected by federal rules on the production and handling of produce under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and if so, how.


The short answer is that you should get GAP certified when you have a buyer that you want to work with, requiring that you have the GAP certification before they will buy from you.

The longer answer has to do with the costs of a GAP audit. GAP certification is NOT cheap. Even though you will receive a cost share that covers most of your GAP audit cost expenses your first year of audit, you have to remember that the assistance drops precipitously the second year, and then you are on your own to cover the costs of GAP certification alone. Approach this decision as you would with any other decision about making a business investment. You want to make a sufficient amount of wholesale sales in your first year of certification to justify the cost of the audit the second year. This requires a strong relationship with a wholesale buyer, and adequate volume of a needed commodity.

The auditor will charge $115 an hour for their audit services. This includes travel time, on-farm time, and office time. On top of the auditor from your state department of agriculture, the USDA will also charge for the review and processing of your certification, at the same rate of $115/hour. The USDA has routinely been charging for three hours of time for their part in the audit. It is harder to estimate what your department of agriculture auditor will charge because travel times vary, and the time spent on the farm also varies.

GAP certification costs average about $1200/year. And this is an annual charge. Since this is an average, some farms come out much less, and others pay more than this. Average on-farm time for the audit is three hours. When the auditor sends an agenda (a few days prior to your audit), they will include the estimated costs of your audit.

One last important point. You will receive two bills after your audit. One will come from the state department of agriculture, and the other from the USDA. Make sure you receive both and pay them promptly or you could be putting your certification at risk.

CFSA’s policy team is currently advocating for increased funding for farms getting GAP certified. In order to help our efforts, you can report the cost of your audits to our food safety team. The more data we have, the better case we can make for better funding!

GFSI stands for Global Food Safety Initiative. Just as it sounds, this is a globally recognized food safety rulebook. Some GAP certification programs are aligned–or benchmarked– with this rulebook and others are not. Of the USDA standards, only the Harmonized GAP Plus Standard is GFSI benchmarked. All other GFSI Standards are property of private companies offering audit services.

This Standard is an older version of USDA’s food safety auditing program. It is still being used, and you can still be audited under this standard. We recommend that you use the Harmonized GAP Standard as this is where the industry is headed, but it is not required.

In 2011, industry stakeholders got together and tried to reduce “audit fatigue.” This term describes the fact that farmers were asked by different buyers to be audited under different auditing rulebooks. Some farmers had to do several audits a year in order to comply with their different buyer requirements. The industry worked together to “harmonize” or bring the different standards together into one standard that would work for all certifying bodies and all farms. The result was the Harmonized Standard. The USDA has taken that Standard, altered it only slightly, and developed an auditing program for it. Any buyer that accepts the Harmonized Standard will accept the USDA’s Harmonized Standard.