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What it takes to get a GAP audit for your produce

Annalisa Hultberg Extension Educator, On-Farm Food Safety

This time of year we get calls and emails from growers thinking about their markets and expanding opportunities next season. You may have heard about a GAP audit, and wonder what it is and how it could benefit your operation.  Here are 5 key tips to think about if you are considering a GAP audit.

What is a GAP audit? 

A GAP audit is basically a verification that your farm is following science-based best practices for food safety in growing fresh produce. 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. It is not a law or regulation; it is a voluntary audit that you pay for, and farmers generally get it to access a market that requires an audit.  

Read more about what the audit is and who needs it:

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. Most famers' markets or other direct to consumer sales do not require an audit. 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? 

It is your product (e.g. cucumbers, green beans, tomatoes) that actually gets the audit, not your farm. The audit 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.

So what should you get 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 most current USDA GAP audit checklist is what the auditor uses. 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. Use the “Food Safety Plan 4 You” template created by the University of Minnesota Extension On Farm GAP Education Program as a starting point and customize it to fit your operation.

5. 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. 

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 factsheet on navigating the GAP audit process: https://extension.umn.edu/growing-safe-food/navigating-usda-gap-audit-process

To set up an audit with the MN Dept of Agriculture, see contact information here: 651-201-6067 or https://www.mda.state.mn.us/fruit-and-vegetable-inspections

If you have any questions about your food safety plan or preparing for a GAP audit please send us an email at hultb@umn.edu.



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