United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and

other third party Audit Information

What is a third party audit?

At this point, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates the safety of fruits and vegetables, offers guidance for produce farmers through a variety of food safety programs. There are no regulations that apply to the growing or handling of fresh, unprocessed fruits and vegetables, and, therefore, no inspection programs.

However, in response to the increase in foodborne disease outbreaks tied to fresh fruits and vegetables, many supermarket chains, restaurant chains, schools, produce distributors and others have looked to third party audit programs to inspect the farmers that supply them with fresh produce. 

Basically, they employ an audit (or inspection) firm to do the job that regulators are not currently doing.  What is different is that it is now the third party inspection firm and those that hire them to do the job that are making demands on farmers to adopt good agricultural practices, develop food safety plans, and demonstrate that they are consistently following those plans.  Usually, a farmer participates in one scheduled audit and one unannounced audit each season.  Sometimes buyers will ask for commodity specific audits—for tomatoes or cantaloupe, for example. Third party audit programs often will post a list of farms or other operations that have successfully completed the audit program.

…And, the farmer typically has to pay for the privilege!  Fees vary, but farmers may have to pay for the time the auditor spends reviewing food safety plans before the audit, travel expenses incurred by the auditor as they go to and from the farm, and the time spent conducting the audit and performing an exit interview or audit report.  Some states (including Connecticut) have programs that reimburse farmers for all or part of the audit costs if they pass the audit.

Produce buyers will usually require that a grower use a particular third party audit firm.  Sometimes this means that a farmer may have to submit to audits by more than one third party auditor if he sells to several customers who may want a relationship with a particular audit firm.  There is an effort to develop a common or harmonized audit program that would be acceptable to all audit firms and customers.  This may minimize the number of audit firms a farmer must work with. 

What you need to do:

Once you know which audit program you will be using, find out what parts of an audit you will need to comply with (i.e. The USDA audit has more than 5 sections.  You may need to do 2 or 3 or all of them.  Find out so that you can prepare adequately.)  Go to the website of the auditing organization and find out all you can about their program.  These links below can help get you started.

The USDA/AMS audit program

In Connecticut, Mark Zotti, Connecticut Department of Agriculture has been assigned to conduct USDA audits.  If your customer accepts a USDA GAP audit program, please contact Mark to make an appointment for your audit (860-713-2538, mark.zotti@ct.gov).

USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service, Fruit and Vegetable Program, Specialty Crops Inspection (SCI) Division Audit Programs offers voluntary independent Good Agricultural Practices audits of produce suppliers throughout the production and supply chain. 

On this site you will be able to link to:

The Produce GAPs Harmonized Food Safety Standard Audit

The USDA/AMS plans to make this audit standard their audit of choice for 2013.  On this site you will find the USDA Harmonized Checklists, including the Field Operations & Harvesting Checklist and the Post-harvest Operations Checklist.

The Produce GAPs Harmonization Initiative is an all-industry effort including growers, shippers, produce buyers, government agencies, audit organizations and other stakeholders. The goal of the Initiative is “one audit by any credible third party, acceptable to all buyers”.  This site provides updated information regarding the progress of this effort, training opportunities and the harmonized GAP standards and checklists that have been developed.

The USDA/AMS GAP/GHP audit standard information is still available on the site as well.

Audit User’s Guide for GAP & GHP

 USDA Good Agricultural Practices Good Handling Practices

Audit Verification Checklist

This is the actual form used by USDA GAP auditors when they audit your farm.

Other third party audit firms*:

Primus

On this page, Primus offers growers a full range of GAP audit preparation materials including checklists and food safety plan development schemes.

SGS North America, Inc. 

SGS assesses and certifies farm systems and processes against the GlobalGAP standard.

Scientific Certification Systems

SCS conducts comprehensive GAP/GMP audits.  In addition, SCS audits include a food security component upon request.

SQF Institute (division of Food Marketing Institute, FMI)

The SQF 1000 Code is applied to primary producers.  Includes both GAP and other aspects of operations that are important to the safety of their products.

*(This information was prepared as a service to Connecticut farmers.  Neither University of Connecticut nor any of its employees makes any warranty, expressed or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, product, company, or process disclosed. Reference herein to any specific service provider, commercial products, process, or service by trade name, does not constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the University of Connecticut).