Good agricultural practices (GAPs) and good handling practices (GHPs) encompass general procedures that producers and packers of fresh fruits and vegetables should follow to ensure the food safety of their product. GAPs usually deal with preharvest practices (i.e., in the field), while GHPs cover postharvest practices, including packing and shipping. Here the term GAP will generally cover pre- and postharvest practices associated with the safe handling of produce, both fresh and minimally processed.
This fact sheet is intended to review generally recognized principles of GAPs as they relate to produce, primarily at the farm level.
From a regulatory standpoint, GAPs are considered guidelines and are therefore not mandatory. However, it is plausible that recent produce-related foodborne illness outbreaks may encourage a shift toward some type of regulatory requirement. From a commercial standpoint, purchasing requirements and approved vendor programs may require that a particular grower or packer have a formal documented GAPs program in place. This is often true for large, national customers, as well as for products that are intended for export to other countries. Additionally, some states and some commodities operating under specific Marketing Orders may have specific requirements related to GAPs or GAPs-like programs.
In 1998 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published the Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables (available at http://www.fda.gov ). This document was intended to assist domestic and foreign producers, packers, and shippers of unprocessed or minimally processed (raw) fresh fruits and vegetables by increasing awareness of potential foodborne hazards and providing suggestions for individual operations. The FDA stated that these guidelines were broad based and voluntary. The topics outlined in the Guide form the basis for GAPs, as outlined below.
Concurrently, Cornell University launched a major program called the National GAPs Program ( ) with the objective of serving as the main university-based clearinghouse for GAPs research and extension information. This program's Web site serves as a valuable resource about GAPs for producers, packers, and trainers. A resource for growers based on the Guide is found at the site. This pamphlet is written in easily understood language and is available in both English and Spanish.
The following GAPs statements and explanatory comments should be considered in any comprehensive produce food-safety program. The accompanying checklist can be used as a preliminary assessment tool for individual operators.
Cornell University Department of Food Science. 2002. National GAPs Program Web site. http://www.gaps.cornell.edu/ (Accessed October 12, 2006).