By authority granted by Maryland Code, Agriculture Article, Section 10-602 the Secretary of Agriculture may adopt voluntary programs related to the certification of farm products. Using this authority, the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) created the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) program to improve food safety in the production and packing of fruits and vegetables.
GAP refers to farming methods which reduce the likelihood of contaminating produce. Practices used address water quality; manure and compost use; worker health and hygiene; and contamination from wildlife, domestic animals, and livestock. MDA also created the Good Handling Practices (GHP) program which refers to post harvest handling of produce to minimize contamination. Practices include water quality, sanitation of the packing house, pest control programs, and sanitation of containers.
This month, in cooperation with the University of Maryland, MDA is providing GAP basic and advanced trainings across the state. These one-day workshops are important for small- and large-scale producers who want to understand how to meet current and proposed U.S. Food and Drug Administration food safety requirements and meet buyer requirements for GAP certification. The trainings will provide education on food safety topics as well as assistance in writing and implementing a farm food safety plan for both wholesale growers and direct marketers, regardless of whether a certification is needed.
MDA offers two GAP certification programs for fruit and vegetable producers. Nationally recognized USDA GAP/GHP and USDA Harmonized GAP pre-harvest and post-harvest certification is provided through a cooperative agreement with USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service and meets the requirements of many wholesale buyers. MDA GAP certification is geared toward direct marketers or others who want to start with a basic food safety program, and is available to Maryland fruit and vegetable producers at no cost. Both the USDA GAP/GHP and USDA Harmonized GAP pre-harvest and post-harvest certification will assist fruit and vegetable producers in meeting the upcoming Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) produce rule requirements.
Fruit and vegetable producers implement GAP and GHP for many reasons. A GAP/GHP food safety program reduces the risk of microbial contamination which can cause consumer illness from consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. As a result of food-borne illness related to produce, many wholesale buyers of produce now require farmers to be GAP/GHP certified. Implementation of a GAP/GHP program and certification that the requirements are being met assists farmers in providing safe, wholesome produce to consumers, meeting buyer requirements, and meeting the requirements of FSMA.
For more information on GAP or to register for the upcoming trainings, check out MDA’s webpage on the GAP program.