By Patricia Tripp, CFSA Local Produce Safety Initiative Consultant
In partnership with the Wallace Center, CFSA participated in a three-year, national pilot project to assist in the development of the USDA GroupGAP certification, released on April 4, 2016. New Appalachia Foods, LLC (NAF), located in Fleetwood, NC participated in a USDA Pilot Project, and was the first entity within NC to become USDA GroupGAP certified.
What is USDA GroupGAP?
USDA GroupGAP is a farm food safety audit program that allows a group of producers to attain a single GAP certification. In order to participate in the program, a group must:
- Operate under a shared Quality Management System (QMS) that incorporates the requirements of a food safety standard,
- Agree to be audited by USDA as one body,
- Perform internal audits of the member farms to ensure compliance with the chosen food safety standard (Standard USDA GAP/GHP or Harmonized GAP)
- Undergo annual USDA unannounced audits on a percentage of farms within the group.
General Comparison of the Traditional GAP Approach and GroupGAP (Farm Level)
|Manages Food Safety Program||Individual Grower||The Group as a whole assigning one accountable individual to internally verify food safety compliance and assist with administrative duties|
|Audit Frequency||1 External Audit; 1 potential unannounced audit (both annually)||1 Internal Audit; 1 External Audit; Mandatory Unannounced Internal Audit; Mandatory Unannounced External Audit (both annually)|
|Training Requirements||One GAP workshop (recommended annually)||One GAP workshop *
|Certificate Holder||Individual Farm||Central Entity (food hub, support organization or central business entity)|
|Certification Costs||Individual Grower||Shared among group members as determined by the group|
|Traceability||Individual Grower||Central Entity and group members cooperatively|
|Transparency||Varies among growers||Creates transparency of the group in every level of the operation building confidence in customers, manager and producers|
|Continual Improvement||Varies among growers||Requires implementation of a quality management system (QMS), a set of policies, processes and procedures that can be measured, analyzed, reviewed, and continually improved.|
|Customer Satisfaction||Varies among growers||Uses a systems approach ensuring consistency in verifying customers needs are met|
* Additional training may be required for the Group’s Administrator.
Which certification program is USDA GroupGAP audited to?
Groups have the option to certify to one of two food safety standards: 1.) USDA GAP/GHP or 2.) The Produce GAPs Harmonized Food Safety Standard (Harmonized GAP). The central entity, with feedback from group members, determine the standard that best meets the needs of the operation and buyer requirements, which may vary by region.
Who can form a Group?
The USDA’s GroupGAP QMS approach to food safety can be applied to organizations of any size, with varied business models, and to growers who access a number of different markets. Food hubs, support organizations, grocery retailers, wholesalers, farmers markets, or individual growers are all great candidates for USDA GroupGAP if it meets organizational goals.
What are the central entities responsibilities?
- Identify site-specific best practices for production and management
- Employ a qualified Internal Auditor, or utilize a third-party administrator, and maintain continuing education requirements
- Develop a quality management system (QMS) that incorporates external verification methods
- Provide necessary farmer training and capacity building to implement food safety practices at the farm level that meet the requirements of the QMS
- Conduct farm level internal audits and record results to ensure compliance
Where can I learn more about GroupGAP?
For more information about forming a Group, email Karen McSwain, CFSA’s Farm Services & Food Systems Director.
Additional USDA GroupGAP Resources:
The Wallace Center: http://www.wallacecenter.org/foodsafety/