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Best practices help to ensure food safety

Kristian Moeller is the secretary of GLOBALGAP, but he knows potato farming well. He comes from a farming family that has grown potatoes for more than 100 years – and the family had the farm for more than 200 years. Moeller spoke at the World Potato Congress, held in Christchurch, New Zealand March 22-25, about the organization’s role in global trade.

GLOBALGAP. started as EUREPGAP but has transformed into a global partnership for Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). The group is a private sector body that sets voluntary standards for certification of agricultural products worldwide. There are more than 130 accredited certification bodies certifying GAPs in 90 countries, including the United States, Moeller said. The first year of GAPs certification was 2004, and that year saw 18,000 producers certified. In 2008, more than 94,000 growers had been certified and retailers like Wal-Mart have aligned with the global GAPs.

In New Zealand, where the World Potato Congress was held in March, about 90 percent of all the potatoes produced are certified under the regional GLOBALGAP. certifying body – New Zealand GAP. The most recent addition to the group is China GAP, which held its first sanctioning body meeting this spring, Moeller said.

The GLOBALGAP group is now teaming up with the Global Food Safety Initiative, which has the goal of coordinating food safety audits under common, interchangeable metrics, to align its benchmark pre-farmgate GAPs. Audits and certification are becoming more common among retailers and foodservice establishments looking to ensure a safe food supply.

GLOBALGAP has specific guidelines relating to harvest practices, and each point is a “Major Must,” meaning 100 percent compliance is mandatory. And although the harvest season is the busiest for growers, it’s also the best time for an audit, according to GLOBALGAP.

The harvest portion of the audit covers both field practices and the planning that goes on before harvest. Some of the questions that growers must supply answers to are:

Q: Has a hygiene risk analysis been performed for the harvest and transport area?

A: An annual risk analysis should be available covering microbiological, physical and
chemical contaminants, as well as human transmissible diseases.

Q: Are documented hygiene procedures for the harvesting process implemented?

A: The farm manager or an employee is responsible for implementing hygiene procedures.

Q: Have workers been trained in hygiene procedures?

A: There must be evidence that workers have been educated about cleanliness – handwashing and sickness – and clothing – not wearing jewelry, as well as negative behaviors including spitting and smoking.

Q: Are hygiene standards for handling being followed to avoid contamination?

A: Workers handling potatoes in packing sheds must be trained to prevent physical, microbiological or chemical contamination during packing.

Q: Are harvest containers and tools cleaned, maintained and protected from contamination?

A: Cleaning and disinfection schedules should be in place to prevent cross-contamination.

Q: Are vehicles used for harvest cleaned and maintained?

A: Any vehicle used for any other purpose than harvest should be cleaned and maintained to prevent cross-contamination during transport.

Q: Do workers with direct contact with raw product have access to handwashing stations?

A: Mobile handwashing stations should be accessible.

Q: Do workers have access to clean bathroom facilities?

A: Fixed or mobile toilets should be within 500 meters of workers (can be further if working alone). Handwashing stations should also accompany mobile facilities.

Q: Are produce containers used exclusively for the harvested product?

A: If multipurpose vehicles or containers are used, they must be cleaned prior to harvest.

Originally posted Friday, May. 29, 2009

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