How Will GAP Certification Help My Farm?

Maryland’s farmers and producers have a history of appreciating the relationship between their customers and their product. In the face of nationwide food borne illness outbreaks, it becomes vital to Maryland’s farmers to ensure delivering safe, fresh produce to their markets.

In 1998 the first of several steps to standardize produce growing and handling was initiated when the FDA published the “Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables,” (The FDA Guide). This publication informs the farmer about areas in production and handling that are in high risk of microbial contamination and how to minimized that exposure.

Soon after that publication was released, wholesale buyers of fresh fruits and vegetables started requiring their suppliers to undergo 3rd party audits to insure that Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP) were being observed. That audit program ensures that the standards outlined in the FDA Guide are being met.

GAP & GHP are voluntary programs. The Maryland Department of Agriculture, Food Quality Assurance Program has developed a state GAP/GHP certification program. This program is a good way to start developing better food safety practices on your farm if you have never had a GAP/GHP audit. The program includes development of a food safety plan, implementation of that plan, and an onsite audit. Producers that pass receive a certificate. All levels of GAP/GHP look at various areas of practice. They include:

  1. Developing a food safety plan

  2. Water quality

  3. Manure and municipal biosolids

  4. Worker health and hygiene

  5. Sanitary facilities

  6. Field sanitation

  7. Packing facility sanitation

  8. Transportation

  9. Trace back

Most Growers find that attending a basic GAP training to be of great assistance in developing a food safety plan for their farm. Whether you are a farmer-in-training, beginning farmer, or have farmed for decades having a plan in place sets standards and practices for food safety in a progressive and organized fashion. Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Science has put together a good set of references here. A set of Produce Safety Rule and GAP compliant record templates are here.

Information on the MDA GAP program are found here:

GAP Program Requirements

MDA GAP Program Basic requirements

Top 10 Things to Implement – GAP Checklist

GAP Resources

USDA GAP/GHP Audit Request

MDA GAP/GHP Inspection Request Form – word format

USDA GAP Participant Agreement

MDA GAP Audit Report

MDA Farm Food Safety Plan template (word doc)

MDA Farm Food Safety Plan template (pdf)


GAP Process