In May 1997, as part of the President's Food Safety Initiative, the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Agriculture, and Environmental Protection Agency all sent to the president a report that identified produce as a key area of concern.
In response, the Produce Safety Initiative was announced. It aimed to provide further assurance that fruits and vegetables consumed by Americans, whether grown domestically or imported from other countries, would meet the highest health and safety standards.
The Produce Safety Initiative provided guidance on good agricultural practices (GAPs) and good manufacturing practices (GMPs) for fruits and vegetables. This left the FDA and USDA to publish science-based guidance on produce safety.
The Eight Basic GAP Principles
The first GAP principle says that prevention of microbial contamination of fresh produce is favored over-reliance on corrective actions once contamination has occurred. It's difficult to eliminate human pathogens once they have contaminated fresh produce. This is because they tend to reside in hard-to-clean niches. In addition, pathogens can exist in biofilms that serve to bind them to the plant surface, kind of like a plastic wrapper. This protects them from water and disinfectants. So, the best course of action is always to avoid contamination from the get-go.
The second GAP principle states that to minimize microbial food safety hazards in fresh produce, growers, packers, or shippers should use good agricultural and management practices in those areas over which they have control. This principle was designed to reduce supply chain operators' anxiety over their lack of control in regard to produce safety standards of others in the supply chain. This principle doubles down on what growers do have control over - correctly applying GAPs across their operation.
GAP principle three states that fresh produce can become microbially contaminated at any point along the farm-to-table food chain - and the major source of the microbial contamination in fresh produce is associated with human or animal feces. Pathogens from animals can be spread by:
Principle four states that whenever water comes in contact with produce, its source and quality dictate the potential for contamination. You should, therefore, work to minimize the potential of microbial contamination from water used with fresh fruits and vegetables. How can you do this? By understanding the source of the water being used in your facility. You can read more about focusing and evaluating agricultural water here.
GAP principle five ensures that using animal manure or municipal bio-solid waste is managed closely to minimize the potential for microbial contamination of fresh produce. When composting or heat is used to kill pathogens in raw soil amendments, the effectiveness of the treatment is always a function of time and temperature. Other factors include:
Assume that all soil amendments might be contaminated with human pathogens. Therefore, use application methods that avoid contact between them and the edible parts of the crop.
GAP principle six states that worker hygiene and sanitation practices during production, harvesting, sorting, packing, and transport play a critical role in minimizing the potential for microbial contamination of fresh produce. Anything that comes into contact with fresh produce can potentially be contaminated with human pathogens. Proper hygiene guidelines should discuss:
Principle seven states that we should follow all applicable local, state, and federal laws and regulations for agricultural practices. This principle helps create awareness for growers that there is government regulation they must consider when growing, harvesting, and handling food. For example, FSMA, Florida tomatoes (TGAPs), and California/Arizona leafy greens (LGMA).
The last GAP principle says that accountability at all levels of the agriculture environment - farm, packing facility, distribution center, and transportation operation - is important to a successful food safety program. There must be qualified personnel and effective monitoring to ensure that all elements of the program function correctly and to help track produce back through the distribution channels to the producer.
Practicing Good Agricultural Practices reduces the risk of harmful contamination of your produce. Following these best practices for reducing contamination ensures that your food is safe and will not cause harm or illness to consumers. For a more in-depth discussion of the GAP principles discussed in this blog, consider our Essentials of Produce Safety online course.