AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. –With recent reports of outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, it is even more important that producers complete food safety certification. The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) recently announced a program that will help producers with the cost of these certifications. The cost-share program for specialty crop growers will alleviate the cost associated with GAP/GHP and hGAP certifications.
Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), Good Handling Practices (GHP), and Harmonized GAP (hGAP) audits are voluntary certifications that evaluate how producers produce, pack, handle and also store fruits and vegetables. The goal is to ensure that farmers produce food in the safest manner possible to minimize risks of microbial, physical, and chemical food safety hazards.
Kristin Woods, an Alabama Extension regional agent of food safety and quality, says food safety certification is one way for produce buyers to verify that growers are following good agricultural practices on their farms.
“Many of our Alabama growers have been voluntarily using good agricultural practices for years. However, the cost of certification has been prohibitive for them,” Woods says. “This new cost share program will enable small growers who couldn’t previously afford certification to access new markets. These markets are ones that wouldn’t be available to a grower that could not show that they are certified.”
The cost-share program will reimburse farmers that have successfully passed a GAP/GHP certification. The program reimburses 75% of the cost up to a maximum of $500 per year.
“We are always looking for ways to help our state’s producers grow and expand,” said Commissioner John McMillan. “GAP/GHP certification is required by most schools, grocers and wholesalers. By providing financial assistance, we are helping our farmers reach those markets.”
Funds for this program are provided through the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. Reimbursements are available on a first-come, first-serve basis until the funds run out.
Woods said the hope is that this program provides the best possible protection of public health and for Alabama’s produce industry.
“The costs of not producing safe products is considerable for both the industry and consumers who fall ill,” Woods says. “This program will encourage more growers to achieve certification and also follow practices that enhance the safety of their products.”