USA – The US government in collaboration with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has launched the USDA Harmonized Good Agricultural Practices Audit Program (USDA H-GAP) as part of their strategy to strengthen food safety.

The announcement made by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, highlights collaborative efforts to streamline produce safety requirements for farmers.

According to Perdue, the USDA Harmonized audit provides specialty crop farmers with a likelihood to pass the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) inspection as well as helping producers meet federal regulatory requirements.

Though both the FDA and USDA program requirements are not the same, relevant technical components in the FDA Produce Safety Rule are covered in the USDA H-GAP Audit Program.

These include biological soil amendments; sprouts; domesticated and wild animals; worker training; health and hygiene; and equipment, tools & buildings; and with the alignments, farmers will be able to assess their food safety practices as they prepare to comply with the Produce Safety Rule.

“We’re committed to working with USDA to pursue our shared goal of advancing food safety in a way that is efficient and helps farmers meet our regulatory standards. By working together, our two programs can advance these efforts more effectively,” said Commissioner Gottlieb.

“The announcement will help FDA and states better prioritize our inspectional activities by using USDA H-GAP audit information to prioritize inspectional resources and ultimately enhance our overall ability to protect public health.”

“Inspections are key to helping to ensure that produce safety standards are being met, but they only provide a snapshot in time. Leveraging the data and work being done by USDA will provide us with more information so that we can develop a clearer understanding of the safety and vulnerabilities on produce farms as well as concentrate our oversight and resources where they are most needed.”

In the Produce Safety Rule, which came into effect in January 2016, FDA detailed new standards for the growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of produce for human consumption.

The rule came in line with efforts to implement FSMA, signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011 with an aim to ensure the US food supply is safe.

FDA has already finalized seven major rules to implement FSMA, alluding to the fact that a shared responsibility among many different points in the global supply chain for both human and animal food is a vital constituent in ensuring safety in the food supply chain.

USDA H-GAP is an audit developed as part of the Produce GAP Harmonization Initiative, collaboratively formed by growers, shippers, produce buyers, audit organizations and government agencies, including USDA.

It applies to all fresh produce commodities, all sizes of on-farm operations and all regions in the US.