When thinking about purchasing produce directly from local farmers, school nutrition program operators often have questions about how to assess whether or not the farm(s) from which they would like to purchase is/are following safe practices and how to handle the produce safely. This page provides information and links to resources to address these issues.
Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) is a collection of principles used to minimize food safety risks during on-farm production and post-production processes. These principles evaluate hazards and require producers to take preventative measures to reduce the opportunity for those hazards to affect the safety of the food that is produced. GAP focus on four primary components: soil, water, hands, and surfaces.
Good Handling Practices (GHP) is a set of recommendations that address an operation’s overall food safety program including issues such as worker hygiene and the cleanliness of the facility. These guidelines generally concentrate on packing and storage facilities as well as wholesale distribution centers.
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) offers voluntary GAP and GHP audits to verify that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored using safe practices. Visit the USDA AMS GAP & GHP site for a list of farms that have been certified in GAP/GHP through USDA’s audit program. Other third parties may offer similar audits.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture completes GAP/GHP audits and offers partial reimbursement for farms that have successfully completed GAP/GHP certification. Contact information: 717-787-4315 or
School Food Authorities (SFAs) should purchase from reliable sources that follow GAPs and GHPs. However, USDA does not require SFAs to purchase from GAP/GHP-certified farms. The resources listed below can be used to help schools and farmers discuss farm food safety practices.
- Verifying On-Farm Food Safety (Institute of Child Nutrition)
- Checklist for Retail Purchasing of Local Fresh Produce (Iowa State University Extension)
- Tools for Writing a Farm Food Safety Plan (Penn State Extension)
A variety of resources including fact sheets, presentations, and videos related to handling produce safely can be found on the Institute of Child Nutrition’s Produce Safety Resources site.