Community Food Systems - Food Safety FAQs
1. What are the important food safety tips that schools should follow when working with local farmers?
A good first step is for the school to inquire about Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) training, certification or food safety measures that are currently in place. Although GAP certification is the gold standard, not all farms have undergone a GAP audit. Food service directors may choose to ask questions based on GAP principles.
2.How would a school district find out about State and local health or sanitation requirements that the district may need to follow to purchase directly from farmers?
The local health or State food regulatory agency would be able to inform you of what requirements apply for school districts purchasing directly from farms.
3.Are there any other rules or regulations farmers have to meet in order to sell to schools?
Farmers must meet all local and State regulations and be in good standing, in order to sell their products within the Child Nutrition Programs. Also, local distributors may have additional requirements, e.g., third party audits or product liability insurance limits. Farmers and schools should check with their local health departments to ensure that local and State requirements are met.
4.Are there any plans to streamline the food safety process or provide tools for smaller farmers?
There are many resources and tools available to assist farmers implement food safety practices on the farm, many of which are commodity and/or regional specific. Some State Departments of Agriculture offer cost-share incentives for farmers that pass a third-party good agricultural practices verification audit. For the most current and relevant information, contact your State Department of Agriculture, or your local extension office. Both may provide food safety training, technical assistance, or access to additional resources. To find your local extension office, visit the USDA Cooperative Extension Service. Another resource is the National GAPs Program website at http://www.gaps.cornell.edu/weblinks.html; this website offers online good agricultural practices training, food safety training materials and links to other food safety resources.
5.Is there a specific amount of liability coverage that farmers or others providing products to school meal programs must carry?
No, there is no specific amount of liability coverage required of farmers by USDA to sell to schools. However, school districts, states, distributors, retailers and food service management companies may all have different liability coverage requirements. It is best to contact these entities for further information.
6.Is Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and/or Good Handling Practices (GHP) going to be a requirement in all states in the near future?
No, not at this time. GAP/GHP certifications are only required when selling fresh fruits and vegetable directly to the USDA. However, local distributors, retailers, or schools may have individual GAP/GHP related policies.
7.Where can I find resources on the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification requirements?
Many resources on the Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP) certification process are available online, including the USDA’s Agriculture Marking Service website. The National GAP webpage includes additional GAP/GHP resources. Additionally, numerous State Departments of Agriculture have GAP/GHP related resources, including cost sharing programs. Contact your State Department of Agriculture for more information.
8.As GAP certification can be costly, will there be alternatives for farmers to be certified for GAP?
Numerous states provide financial and technical assistance to farmers for GAP education, planning and certification using USDA Specialty crop Block Grant Program funds. Additionally, many local County Extension programs provide resources to assist with GAP education, planning and certification. Contact your State Department of Agriculture or local County Extension agent for more information.
9.Do farms follow Hazard Analysis critical Control Points (HACCP)?
HACCP specifically addresses preventive food safety systems in manufacturing and processing plants and retail foodservice establishments, such as schools. HACCP requirements would not apply to farms. Rather, Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHPs) principles address food safety programs that should be in place on farms.
10.Can you give us some guidelines for handling produce in school kitchens?
Food and Nutrition Service’s publication Best Practices: Handling Fresh Produce in Schools, outlines recommendations for handling fresh produce at all steps in the food production process. Best practices address purchasing and receiving; washing and preparation; hand hygiene; serving; storage; and training and general food safety practices. Specific recommendations for handling melons, tomatoes, leafy greens, and sprouts are also included.
11.Is there a resource that explains how to incorporate school garden produce into the school meal program?
We are especially concerned about food safety and sanitation issues. It is important to ensure that safe growing principles are used to grow produce from any source, including gardens. Before using any produce from a school garden, visit the garden and ask the master gardener about growing practices, including the history of the land use, water sources, soil sampling and results, use of fertilizers and pesticides, and animal control measures. Currently, USDA has not published a specific resource on food safety related to school gardens, but many resources are available on growing produce safely in gardens. Contact your local extension office for specific resources.
12.Can local or State agencies have stricter policies when it comes to allowing produce from the school garden to be used in the Child Nutrition Programs?
Local and State agencies may have stricter food safety policies related to allowing produce from school gardens to be used in Child Nutrition Programs. It is best to contact your local school district or the State agency that administers the Child Nutrition Programs for more information.
13.What is the purpose of USDA fruit and vegetable inspections?
USDA fresh fruit and vegetable inspections are used to determine the grade of a product, and not for food safety purposes. Grading is voluntary except when USDA purchases produce for the Food Distribution Program. USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service has developed grade standards for 85 fresh fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, peanuts, and related commodities. They describe the quality requirements for each grade of commodity (e.g. US Extra Fancy apples, US Fancy apples, etc.), giving industry a common language for buying and selling. USDA grade standards can assist schools to determine the quality and value of fresh fruits and vegetables.