Skip to main content

Are you thinking of getting a GAP audit this year?

Author: Annalisa Hultberg, Extension Educator- Food Safety, Horticultural Systems

This time of year many growers are starting to think about marketing the crops they will be harvesting later this summer.  We get calls and emails from growers wanting to get ready for new markets and who are considering getting their farm “GAP-certified.” Should you get a GAP audit on your fresh produce this summer? Read on for some tips.

A GAP audit is basically a verification that your farm is following science-based best practices for food safety in growing fresh produce. A few things to consider:

What is a GAP audit? A GAP audit is when an inspector from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) or another certifying body comes to your farm with a checklist to verify that you have implemented and are following Good Agricultural Practices during the growing, harvesting, packing, storage, and transportation of your product.

What gets audited? It is your product (e.g. cucumbers, green beans, tomatoes) that actually gets the audit. The audit also occurs during the harvest and packing activities related to that product. You won’t be able to have an audit done ahead of time or in the winter; you have to have it while the product is growing and the auditor can see you harvest and pack the product. The auditor will be able to certify many crops while they are at the farm, however, as long as the crop is in the field.

Before you get the audit: If you are even thinking about getting your product certified you may have already started your food safety plan and implemented some of the practices. Here are 4 things to consider before requesting an audit:

1. Who is requiring the audit? If you are selling to a wholesale distributor or large grocery chain, they might require an audit. If you are selling to a food hub, school, hospital, or other institution, they may require an audit but they may accept other verification such as providing written food safety plan. Don’t get a GAP audit unless you have a buyer who requires an audit and a certificate for your product! Talk with your buyer before you get the audit to make sure you are getting one that they accept.

2. What products do you want audited? This is a management decision your farm will have to make. What can you grow well, and sell large volumes of to a wholesale customer that is requiring the GAP audit? Seek a GAP audit on the crops where it makes financial sense for your farm. If you have a small amount of a particular crop, and you don’t anticipate selling it to a wholesaler, then you would not likely get a GAP audit for that product.

But remember! If the auditor can see it growing, they can likely audit it. The auditor can conduct the audit on multiple crops during one audit, saving you money. They will not have to come back to your farm multiple times for different crops, unless the crop isn’t in the ground when they are there.

3. What kind of audit is your buyer requiring? There are multiple audit schemes. If you are just starting the process and this is the first time you will be having an audit, start with the basic USDA GAP audit. But check with your buyer to ensure that they will accept this audit. The checklist is everything the audit will cover: i.e. you get the test before taking it!

4. Do you have your food safety plan written? You must have a written food safety plan that covers the policies and practices that represent what you do on your farm. The MDA auditors say it’s easier for them if you write your plan in the same order as the USDA GAP Audit Checklist, and make sure to include the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and records as appropriate for your farm. Food safety plan templates are available from many sources and a favorite is the “Food Safety Plan 4 You” template created by the University of Minnesota Extension On-Farm GAP Education Program.

Paying for the audit

Audits cost $108 an hour to pay for the MDA auditor’s time and for the USDA to review the audit. You will only complete the sections that pertain to your farm and audit; i.e. if you don’t have a packshed, you would only do parts 1 and 2, not 3, as that is the packinghouse section. Generally the process runs about $300 - $700. The audit needs to be completed annually. Important: The MDA has a cost-share program that can reimburse you for up to 75% of the cost of the audit once you have the audit certificate, making the out of pocket costs much lower. Read more about the cost share here. 

Farms say that once their food safety plan is created and put into use it really helps them with efficiency and worker training, as they are create policies and systems for activities that happen on the farm. Food safety should be part of your entire business plan and can help improve the quality and safety of your fresh produce, expand your markets, and enhance your brand, regardless of if you choose to get a GAP audit for market access purposes.

Here is a fachsheet on navigating the GAP audit process:

To set up an audit with the MN Dept of Agriculture, see contact information here: 651-201-6067 or

If you have any questions about your food safety plan or preparing for a GAP audit please send us an email or call or 651-480-7710.

Print Friendly and PDF