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Farm to school food safety - new resources

Annalisa Hultberg, Extension Educator, food safety

Food safety is sometimes a topic that is seen as creating a bottleneck or barriers for a farm selling to a new market, like a school or an institution.  A farm might lack a food safety verification like a GAP audit that some buyers require, or sometimes a buyer thinks that local food is not legal to use in their food service setting. Two new resources help clarify what is required and what is allowed under Minnesota state food code when farms sell to markets like schools and other institutions.

What is allowed under law?

To be clear, as per Minnesota state statute, locally grown food is legal to procure for school meal programs and other foodservice settings. A farmer is not required to get any sort of license or inspection to sell to these buyers, as long as they grow and sell their own product. As per the Minnesota Department of Health food grown by farmers is an "approved source".

A buyer might ask for a GAP audit, which is a verification of Good Agricultural Practices, but this is not a legal requirement, and many (most) buyers in Minnesota do not require a GAP audit. If your buyer does require a GAP audit, we can help you prepare for this and develop a food safety plan. See more on GAP audits here. 

How to talk to buyers about food safety

Two new resources are intended to help food service buyers and farmers have successful discussions about what sort of regulations or requirements might apply to local purchases relating to food safety. "Food Safety Requirements for Farmers” and “Food Safety Questions to Ask Your Farmer” are two new resources located on the Minnesota Department of Education website. These documents were created as a partnership between the Minnesota Department of Education, University of Minnesota Extension and the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. 

The main audience for these factsheets are buyers who are interested in sourcing more locally grown product.  If you are meeting with new buyers this fall, consider bringing these short documents along. Here is a excerpt from the table that shows the differences between what is required, and what is not.

Excerpt from "Food Safety Requirements for Farmers" factsheet

The first document, “Food Safety Requirements for Farmers”, is a table-format document that lays out the differences between required and optional audits and verifications for food safety practices for local farms.

 The second, “Food Safety Questions to Ask Your Farmer,”  is a list of questions about on-farm food safety practices that food service workers can ask farmers when considering buying fresh fruits and vegetables directly from a farm. These questions are not about food safety in a food service kitchen, but rather about the steps that the farmer took to minimize the risk of contamination as the food was grown, harvested and transported to your kitchen door. 

There are many other things you might talk about as you develop a relationship and begin to sell food to a new institutional market, including delivery schedule, pricing and container and pack size. Food safety can be another part of this conversation, and should not create barriers or prevent any local food sales. Bringing along a written food safety plan and these factsheets is a great idea and will help the buyer understand the steps you take to grow safe, healthy food.

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