The ultimate goal of the project is to prepare the participating farms to pass a USDA GAP certification. USDA GAP auditors are a 3rd party (what that means is they are independent of both the organization being audited and any customers of the organization). They can offer resources to point you in the right direction to receive the guidance you need. Good resources for producers as they get ready for an audit are local extension agents, university representatives, or other farmers.
To schedule an audit in NC, complete and send this form (Request form) to NCDA&CS marketing division grading services along with your proposed audit dates (4 weeks in advance at the minimum) and a copy of your food safety manual. Before the audit day, the auditor needs to know the type of audit requested (USDA GAP audit, Harmonized food safety standard, Tomato audit protocol (T-GAP), Leafy greens audit (LGMA), and Identity Preservation Audit ; parts desired to be completed of the USDA GAP/GHP audit (Part 1&2 to be completed for GAP portion, Part 3&4 to be completed for GHP portion, Part 6 is for wholesale distribution centers, and Part 7 is for preventative food defense procedures) and reviewed your food safety manual; and, any previous audits completed. All crops the participant requests to be audited must be in production.
When the auditor arrives, the auditor will confirm with the farm the type of audit and parts to be completed, and attain records and documentation.
The audit will begin with the general questions and all parts have to pass the general questions. There will be an automatic fail if there is a high likelihood of product being contaminated, high presence of rodents or pests, observation of employee non-compliance with health and hygiene policy, or if you don’t have a food safety manual or food safety officer.
During the audit, the auditor will observe processes on the farm, including proper signage, availability of bathroom and handwashing facilities, and conditions of containers and storage, etc.
The auditors will confirm that employees are complying with standard operating procedures and policies. At times the auditor will need to review records even though the audit does not call for it. The audit will be stopped immediately if the farmer is found to have falsified records – automatic failure. Upon completion of the audit a report will be available. This report contains a completed checklist with score sheet and corrective actions. Auditors will write comments for all questions answered No or N/A.
Before the auditor leaves they will discuss the audit findings and the farmer will be able to discuss corrective actions. The auditor will also ask about the seasonality of the business so they can make arrangements for the follow-up or unannounced visit. This is important when auditing multiple crops so that the auditor can see as many things in production/harvest as possible.
In addition to an administrative cost of $50, the audit fees are $92/hour. The fees cover time on site for conducting the audit, travel time and preparatory time.
This summarizes the main things that many farmers will encounter as they get to the stage of an actual audit. This project’s participating farmers are compiling materials and scheduling their USDA GAP audits, many for the spring.