[Image: Melanie Lewis Ivey]
[Image: Achyut Adhikari]
News Release Distributed 06/06/14
NEW ORLEANS – When most urban dwellers see the word GAP, it’s highly unlikely that anything related to food comes to mind. But urban fruit and vegetable growers understand that Good Agricultural Practices are now a part of their lives.
Audrey Carrier, with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, said GAP is a program that identifies potential risk of contamination for fresh fruits and produce.
Carrier was one of the speakers at the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and On-farm Food Safety Workshop in New Orleans on May 28.
“GAP and GHP, which stand for Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices, are both voluntary programs that help farmers identify and reduce the potential for contamination,” Carrier said.
Even though farmers are not required by law to be GAP or GHP certified, some buyers require producers to be certified before they will buy their produce.
Carrier said LDAF is the one government agency along with several private, third-party auditors that can certify a producer’s operation for a fee.
“These food safety audits are designed to help producers assure their customers that they are doing all they can to provide safe fruits and vegetables,” Carrier said.
LSU AgCenter food safety specialist Achyut Adhikari is conducting GAP and on-farm food safety workshops across the state to make producers aware of the importance of taking extra care in the growing, harvesting, handling and packing produce.
“The goal of the workshops like this one here in New Orleans is to guide producers in minimizing microbial food safety hazards for fresh fruits and vegetables,” Adhikari said.
These guidelines were developed as part of President Clinton’s 1997 Food Safety Initiative, which identified produce as an area of concern.
“The guide to minimize food safety hazards was issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1998, not as a regulation, but as guidance with the buyer acting as the enforcement branch,” Adhikari said.
Even though the GAP and GHP initiatives are not enforceable laws, they are servng as the initial steps of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011.
Adhikari held GAP and GHP training workshops in Lake Charles and New Orleans this spring. The next location will be in north Louisiana, probably Shreveport, later this year, he said.
Topics covered at the New Orleans workshop included water use, manure management, worker health, hygiene and sanitary facilities, harvesting, storage, transportation and animal control, and developing a farm food safety plan.
“There are no size restrictions for the farmers we are targeting,” Adhikari said. “They can be as small as two acres or in the hundreds of acres. Our goal is to get this information to everyone who is involved in the fruit and vegetable business. ”
Adhikari said once the Food Safety Modernization Act goes into effect, there will be major changes for the way producers irrigate, harvest, process and package their produce.
“Everything will change when the act goes into effect,” Adhikari said. “So we want to get the producers prepared now.”
Adhikari said he expects the act to be implemented by January 2016. But he expects some of the provisions to be phased in gradually to give producers enough time to make the necessary transition.
In addition to the LSU AgCenter, other supporters of the workshop included Southern University Ag Center, marketumbrella.org, and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.