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New GroupGAP Certification Brings New Opportunities for the Produce Industry

Posted by Charles W. Parrott, Deputy Administrator, Specialty Crops Program Deputy Administrator in Food and Nutrition Health and Safety Farming
Apr 04, 2016
A National School Lunch Week event at Nottingham Elementary School
From salad greens to fresh blueberries, local food is showing up everywhere from grocery stores to our kids’ school lunch plates. Helping the produce industry meet this local food demand and to meet the requirements of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) now offers a new GroupGAP certification program for smaller growers. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Excitement is building in the produce industry.  From salad greens to roasted beets to fresh blueberries, local food is showing up on grocery stores shelves, as new features on restaurants menus and on our kids’ school lunch plates.  The increased demand for local food is creating more opportunities for farmers, ranchers and producers. While exploring new ways to meet the demand, the produce industry is also keeping an eye on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

To help producers meet the requirements of FSMA, one of the most important services USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) provides is our Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification. That’s why we’re launching a new GroupGAP certification program that allows smaller growers and producers to band together to become certified as a group. We are working closely with FDA to align our GAP and GroupGAP programs with FSMA requirements so that as FSMA takes effect, certified growers will know they are meeting the new requirements.

We know it works.  For the past three years, our Specialty Crops Program and Transportation and Marketing Program have partnered with the nonprofit Wallace Center to fine tune the GAP certification program for smaller producers. Good Natured Family Farms (GNFF), a food hub located in Kansas City, was one of the first operations to pioneer this collaborative food safety protocol.

Based on a quality management system individually designed and implemented by a central entity, GroupGAP is able to provide growers of all sizes with support and guidance needed to ensure compliance with food safety guidelines.

Three main benefits of GroupGAP were reported by pilot participants:

  1. GroupGAP creates and reinforces a network-wide culture of food safety with a built-in community for learning and support.
  2. The network results in higher initial audit pass rates and closer working relationships with state auditors.
  3. GroupGAP helped growers develop robust and transparent internal management systems.

GroupGAP members—whether small- and mid-sized farmers, co-ops or food hubs— determine their own composition and decide what commodities are covered by the GAP certification.  This cooperative GroupGAP system takes advantage of shared certification costs, improved quality management systems, and increases overall food safety.

USDA is excited to offer this valuable service, knowing GroupGAP will benefit the entire produce industry and help bring more local food options to consumers.