Having USDA GAP certification does not exempt a grower from a regulatory inspection. The FSMA Produce Safety Rule is a law, governed by the FDA, while GAP programs are voluntary food safety programs overseen by either third-party certification agencies or the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Having a GAP certification is a great way to demonstrate that a farm is adhering to effective food safety practices.
GAP certification is for any grower interested in accessing more market opportunities. Those opportunities may include large box retailers, but also may include local colleges/ universities, community organizations, corporate cafeterias, early childcare, elder care facilities, hospitals, school districts/ school food authorities, restaurants, prisons, and food distributors.
All GAP program auditors, whether federal, state or private, are held to the same standard of training and integrity, regardless of which certifying body for which they audit. The process for addressing non-conformances is the same regardless of the auditor or the agency.
GroupGAP is a certification option for any group of production locations and secondary activity locations that agree to operate under a shared quality management system and seek certification under one of the USDA GAP audit services (GAP, Harmonized GAP, HGAP Plus+).
Although GroupGAP may work for friends and neighbors, GroupGAP can work for any group of growers, regardless of existing connections or long-standing relationships. The only required relationship is the agreement to adhere to the same QMS. Additionally, organizing together through a food hub can empower growers who are otherwise isolated or struggling to find buyers for their produce.
Every farm is audited by the internal auditor assigned and agreed upon by the QMS the group established. USDA auditors will audit a representative number of the group’s farms as well as the QMS plan and documentation to ensure the group is in compliance with its system. Failure of an on-site audit by a group member does not necessarily affect the outcome of the GAP audit.
Growers who have agreed to seek GroupGAP certification must have trust amongst their members. This is of the utmost importance when forming a group. However, the QMS system has checks and balances in place to verify members are complying with food safety and group requirements (trust but verify). All group members agree to follow and implement the QMS, as well as acknowledge the corrective actions if food safety standards are not met. Corrective actions could range from simply removing a farm’s unsafe product from distribution to group dismissal.