USDA GAP and Harmonized GAP (HGAP) recertification is a yearly process since the certification is only good for one year from the date that the audit paperwork is verified. In terms of preparing the producer for recertification, there are two main areas of focus: (1) Plan of Action (POA) manual revisions, and (2) on-farm implementation of practices (as necessary). The manual is the food safety plan of your farm and documents the policies and practices that you are using to mitigate food safety risks of contamination to your fresh produce. The manual will detail what the farm is doing, when, and by whom. The manual is a fluid document since the farm is never static, and as such, it must be regularly updated when and if any changes occur on the farm, i.e. new crop locations, crops grown, how they are grown and harvested, how they are handled, workers changing, etc.
The first step in the POA manual update is to get a broad overview of any changes that have occurred on your farm, as compared to last year, which will help provide some orientation as to what needs to be updated in the manual. Once this initial step is done, then it is important to work through the POA questions for each pertinent section, one by one, and as needed, update the manual accordingly. Other tasks include taking all records from the previous seasons, placing into files or notebooks (or whatever system works best) and label them for that growing year. Additionally, any changes to policies for the current growing season need to be reflected in updated SOPs and accompanying record log sheets to support the POA manual. Important documentation will need to be updated including obtaining new water analyses for irrigation and wash water sources; records for handling of soil amendments such as manure and compost; employee training; updating and/or replacing any signage; replenishing first aid kit contents; facilities and equipment changes; and updates to the traceability system.
Once you have accomplished all these tasks, it is important to schedule a time to do a pre-audit walk through, which you can do with a VCE agent from the Fresh Produce Food Safety Team. The idea of the walk through is to insure that everything is up to date in your manual and that any changes are reflected in your on-farm practices. At least one month before the anticipated audit, it is important to FAX an audit request form to VDACS, in order to make sure the inspectors are aware and can set you up in the queue. The main point of contact at VDACS for the audits is Dennis Clary, Dennis.Clary@vdacs.virginia.gov.
USDA Agricultural Marketing Service – Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Audit Programs
Main page for important information/resources for the GAP/GHP and Harmonized audits, including criteria for certification and audit checklists. Also lists certified farms by commodity and state, plus much more.