Prepare for Produce Safety Success: Start Your On-Farm Produce Safety Plan
By Dominique Giroux, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets
Winter and early spring can provide a great opportunity to begin preparations for the growing season ahead. With seed ordering, equipment repair, production planning and everything else farms have to do to prepare for the upcoming growing season, why add a produce safety plan? Farms with greater than $500,000 in annual produce sales are preparing for the first year of regulatory inspections under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule (PSR). And while the PSR does not require a written farm produce safety plan, writing a plan will help you to get organized, focused on food safety, and prepared for regulations, buyer requirement requests, or third-party audits. Perhaps you’ve never written a produce safety plan, or perhaps you are looking for a refresher. This article provides recommendations and resources to get you started on developing, or updating, a farm produce safety plan.
Educational and Support Resources
To start, it’s important to keep in mind that every farm produce safety plan is different. The plan’s components will be based on activities taking place on the farm and personal preference. Some growers choose to make their food safety plan a component of their overall business plan, while others keep it separate. Plans vary in length and detail, and it’s important to tailor your plan to what works best for your farm.
The hardest part of writing a plan is getting started. There are many educational resources available that can help start you off on the right foot. Below are a few resources that can support your produce safety plan development:
- Attend a Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training Course1. This training will not only cover requirements outlined in the FSMA Produce Safety Rule but includes a module on How to Develop a Farm Food Safety Plan. You will learn about conducting risk assessments, identifying management steps and practices that reduce produce safety risks, developing a traceability system, and key components that should be included in a farm food safety plan.
- Contact a Produce Safety Specialist. Produce safety staff with the Vermont Produce Program2 and UVM Extension3 are available to provide support, resources, and recommendations for developing a produce safety plan and can help answer questions about the FSMA Produce Safety Rule.
- Join the Community Accreditation for Produce Safety (CAPS) program4. CAPS is a program of the Vermont and Berry Growers Association (VVBGA) and is a voluntary, practical approach to documenting the use of practices that reduce food safety risks on farms that grow fresh produce. The CAPS program contains a platform and peer resources to help you write a plan for these practices and can allow you to maintain credibility with buyers as market expectations around food safety become more stringent.
Things to Keep in Mind
As mentioned, produce safety plan components and format will vary depending on the farm. However, there are a few commonalities to keep in mind when developing a plan:
- Focus on risk reduction. Start by identifying the practices and conditions that have the greatest impact on produce safety. Assess likely risks on your farm by reviewing practices, the environment, and adjacent land to identify areas that could lead to, or increase, produce safety risks.
- Make it your own. It’s important that even if you use a food safety plan template, you tailor the plan to reflect your practices. There are many resources that provide sample logs, records, and standard operating procedures (SOP) guidelines. While these are great time savers, and should be utilized when appropriate, ensure you only use what you need and tailor each item to your farm’s own procedures.
- Do not include things you wish you were doing. The purpose of having a food safety plan is to keep you and your employees organized, efficient, and aware of your farm procedures to identify and reduce produce safety risks. If there is something you wish you were doing but are not, don’t include that in the plan, as it will not reflect current practices. For example, if you include “Employee restroom is cleaned twice daily” and in reality, it is cleaned four times each week, you should update your plan to reflect that current practice. Keep your plan clear and concise to ensure everyone, workers and management, have the tools and resources to get the job done right.
- Update and revise. As your farm procedures adapt, so should your plan. Revisit your food safety plan at least annually to ensure it is addressing crucial areas to minimize produce safety risks, according to how the farm is currently operating. You might also consider updating your plan when there are changes in equipment, procedures, or personnel.
“Produce safety planning is an essential piece of running a farm in this market. Think cleverly and clearly about your processes, how to minimize risk and how to increase efficiency. Write It down, get a plan, it’s just good farming and I think growers are realizing that by and large,” says Hans Estrin, UVM Extension Produce Safety Specialist and CAPS Program Coordinator.
If you have questions about writing a food safety plan or about the FSMA Produce Safety Rule contact the Vermont Produce Program at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture at AGR.FSMA@vermont.gov or (802) 828-2433.
1 Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training Course: producesafetyalliance.cornell.edu/training/grower-training-courses
2 Vermont Produce Program: agriculture.vermont.gov/produceprogram
3 Contact UVM Extension Produce Safety Specialists at ProduceSafety@uvm.edu
4 VVBGA Community Accreditation for Produce Safety (CAPS) practicalproducesafetyvt.wordpress.com