In the last issue of this newsletter I described the unanticipated wait for the proposed final rule of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to be published. Not a lot of action or interest is occurring for produce auction growers during this time, but the voluntary component of this process is still going forward. And for this, there is an important role that extension can play, which I wanted to bring to your attention.
Some growers will decide to become GAP certified, even if they are not required to under the FSMA. They might do so because it will give them a marketing advantage, or they may sell directly to a large customer who requires it. [If you need to get GAP certified to sell to your largest customer, you might say 'it is not voluntary', but it really is. You have right to find other customers and not sell to them anymore! However, most probably won’t do that, instead deciding to comply to the customer's demands. This is what a number of Rich Hill growers have done, or are in the process of doing.] In July I was contacted by a pumpkin grower in Central Missouri who made the decision to become GAPs certified during their harvest season.
This grower sells pie pumpkins to a major retailer who is now requesting GAP certification from their growers. Because the pumpkins are for pies or 'food', there was a desire (by the retailer) to demonstrate that food safety handling risks had been addressed. So the growers did their homework and were making preparations for an USDA inspection in the harvest season. Why wait until the harvest when it would be busier? In addition to field production they had a packing house with a washing and sorting line; there was no way to inspect this line until it was ‘in use’. So their interest was having someone knowledgeable about the topic come and look through their paperwork and walk their facility beforehand to give them some tips and advice. Also to discuss some of the vagaries of the paperwork and calm their concerns. Was there anyone who could do this? The answer is ‘yes’ and this is a role that Extension can fill.
Most of the regional specialists listed to the side in this newsletter have received training on GAPs. If they haven't, they should be able to contact aspecialist in your region who has. Extension is not regulatory like the Department of Ag or USDA; in Missouri we are strictly educational. As we get exposed to the GAP certification process and meet with growers, see fields and facilities, we will get better at understanding the process, what is important and what might be trivial. Once we have done a visit like this, and a grower is inspected, it will be good for us to hear the results 'how it went'. We can then learn even more and pass some of that knowledge on to the next grower seeking assistance. If several growers close together are interested in GAPs certification, it would be beneficial for an Extension specialist to visit them in one trip; maybe they would even be able to go to each other's farms with that specialist and learn from those examples. We do have some resources (e.g. publications) that might be helpful. For my recent visit, I think a grower GAPs self-assessment booklet proved to be of value.
A few days after my visit I received this message:
Hello Jim, I wanted to thank you again for coming up and going over the food safety regulations/books with us. It was helpful, and I appreciate borrowing the USDA book as well. I haven’t been able to talk to the USDA inspector since we visited, but hope to soon. Thanks again for your availability. (name withheld upon request)
We can also be discrete about the visit and keep what was discussed and your name/farm confidential.
REVISED: November 30, 2015