Ensuring the safety of fresh fruits and vegetables is a top priority for the produce industry. Supply chain partners have invested considerable economic resources in food safety protocols – from implementing good agricultural practices to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point programs to third-party audits and laboratory testing – to ensure that their produce items are of the highest quality and safety. Below is an overview of the Good Agricultural Practices program.
In a January 1997 radio address, (then) President Bill Clinton announced a Food Safety Initiative to improve the safety of the United States’ food supply. In May 1997, as part of the President's Food Safety Initiative, the Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency issued a report that identified produce as an area of concern – due to an increased number of foodborne illness outbreaks associated with fruits and vegetables.
As a result, in October 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration developed and issued a guidance document for the fruit and vegetable industry titled Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
The guidance document addressed microbial food safety hazards and good agricultural practices (GAPs) common to the growing, harvesting, washing, sorting, packing, and transporting of most fruits and vegetables sold to consumers in an unprocessed or minimally processed (raw) form. This voluntary, science-based guidance is used by both U.S. and non-U.S. fresh fruit and vegetable producers to help ensure the safety of their produce.
The Role of Good Agricultural Practices
Good agricultural practices are guidelines established to ensure a clean and safe working environment for all employees while eliminating the potential for contamination of food products. GAPs can reduce food safety risks and can also reduce plant disease and post-harvest loss.
The USDA/FDA GAP guidance document focuses on microbial hazards for fresh produce. It does not specifically address other areas of concern to the food supply or the environment (such as pesticide residues or chemical contaminants). In evaluating the recommendations in the guide that are most appropriate for reducing microbial hazards in their individual operations, growers, packers, and shippers should strive to establish practices that do not inadvertently increase other risks to the food supply or the environment (e.g., excessive packaging or improper use and disposal of antimicrobial chemicals).
It is important to recognize that the guidance focuses on risk reduction, not risk elimination. Current technologies cannot eliminate all potential food safety hazards associated with fresh produce that will be eaten raw.
The guide provides broad, scientifically based principles. Growers should use the guide to help assess microbiological hazards within the context of the specific conditions (climatic, geographical, cultural, economic) that apply to their own operation and implement appropriate and cost-effective risk reduction strategies.
PMA has been an active participant in a number of food safety guidance development projects. We have provided knowledge and expertise to several efforts and financial support, in some cases, to help drive the process and ensure broad distribution of guidance documents to the entire supply chain. A sampling of food safety guidances can be found here.
This and all of our food safety-related material is made possible by the members who support PMA's Gold Circle Campaign for Food Safety. Find out how your company can help improve produce food safety throughout the supply chain.