Food Safety can be a frustrating set of rules to navigate, but we have a shared responsibility to ensure the food we eat is traceable and safe.
The certifications required of your farm vary greatly depending on how much money you gross annually, and who your customers are. Fortunately in Arizona, we have abundant opportunity for peer-to-peer education & technical assistance, available to you whether you are seeking certification, or not.
Third-Party Certifications in Arizona
Let’s Get Into the Weeds:
Who’s it for? Arizona’s School Gardens wishing to incorporate the produce in the school’s cafeteria.
Certifying Agency: Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS)
Becoming an approved source is made easy with the templates and staff support from ADHS. The foundation for approval is the development and implementation of a strong Food Safety Plan, defined as “a living document that demonstrates food safety risks are evaluated and addressed to support the health and safety of students and garden volunteers. The plan must include the following: land history, water source, soil composition and amendments, gardener hygiene and illness, and harvesting produce contact surfaces.”
Good Handling Practices / Good Agricultural Practices (GHP/GAP)
Who’s it for? GHP/GAP Certification is requested or required by many wholesale buyers, including many local distributors like Stern Produce.
Certifying Agency: Arizona Department of Agriculture (AZDA)
The Good Handling Practices (GHP) and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) are voluntary audits that verify that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored as safely as possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.
The Arizona Department of Agriculture provides one-to-one assistance for becoming GHP/GAP certified, whether you’re a traditional farmer or growing hydroponically. Hands down, the best way to begin pursuing your GHP/GAP certification is to contact small-farm-advocate Stewart Jacobson at (602) 542-0950, or via email here.
Direct market farmers also have an opportunity to certify and even have the cost of certification reduced through the GHP/GAP cost-share program.
Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) & the Produce Safety Rule (PSR)
Who’s it for? The Rule offers educational resources to everyone producing raw commodities like fruits and/or veggies, but actual mandates for compliance will depend on your scale.
Certifying Agency: Arizona Department of Agriculture (AZDA); and the FDA provides enforcement for all Tribal Entities.
The Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA (often pronounced “FIZZ-MUH”) has given the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) new authority to regulate the way foods are grown, harvested, packed, held, and cooled. The Arizona Department of Agriculture has recently been awarded the resources to educate, train, inventory, and inspect Arizona’s growers, packers, harvesters, and holders of produce under the Rule, which is why we’ve all been hearing more about the upcoming changes as of late.
All Arizona farms must complete the FSMA Produce Safety Rule Questionnaire to indicate whether you are covered by the “Rule” and to what level. The questionnaire can be found here.
The following will find themselves exempt from the FSMA Produce Safety Rule:
Farms that sell less than $25,000 of fresh produce annually (when averaged over a 3 year period).
Produce that is used for personal or on-farm consumption.
Those Growers, Packers, Harvesters, and Holders whose average 3 year annual sales fall below $500,000 and only sell to a consumer, restaurant, or retail food establishment within 275 miles of where the produce is grown (and in-state) can apply for a qualified exemption.
Produce that is not a raw agricultural commodity (a raw agricultural commodity is any food in its raw or natural state).
The following produce commodities which FDA has identified as “rarely consumed raw”: asparagus; black beans, great Northern beans, kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans, and pinto beans; garden beets (roots and tops) and sugar beets; cashews; sour cherries; chickpeas; cocoa beans; coffee beans; collards; sweet corn; cranberries; dates; dill (seeds and weed); eggplants; figs; horseradish; hazelnuts; lentils; okra; peanuts; pecans; peppermint; potatoes; pumpkins; winter squash; sweet potatoes; and water chestnuts.
Food grains, including barley, dent- or flint-corn, sorghum, oats, rice, rye, wheat, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, and oilseeds (e.g. cotton seed, flax seed, rapeseed, soybean, and sunflower seed).
To verify your exemption, click here.
If you are covered by the “Rule”, how do you come into compliance?
Review the Small Entity Compliance Guide.
The Arizona Department of Agriculture is committed to supporting local growers. To meet this end, AZDA offers free outreach and training on the Produce Safety Rule to help folks come into compliance. All Farms, whether covered or not covered by the “Rule”, are invited to take advantage of these FREE resources.
Grower Training Class (required for all operations above $25,000 annual sales, highly recommended for all): This is an all-day, one-day class only that has to be taken only once by the food safety representative from your farm. The class is offered by Certified Trainers from AZDA at locations around the state.
On Farm Reviews (available to all): Offered to any farm to assist in compliance efforts, offering pre-inspection visits and technical assistance. ADZA offers to prepare your farm with an On Farm Readiness Review which will provide you with all the tools necessary to address the requirements under the Rule.
Tiered Food Safety Trainings
Pinnacle Prevention is an Arizona non-profit launching a tiered training to introduce food safety to farmers, cultivate a positive culture around food safety, and engage growers along the entire continuum of “food safety literacy” (including producers who have little food safety experience, clear up to those who are thinking about but have not yet undergone a third party audit). These trainings are not part of an audit or regulation, but rather the first step in exploring, understanding, and addressing farm-based food safety risks. These trainings are conducted in partnership with regional food safety partners, including La Montañita Co-op’s Four Corners Region GroupGAP program.
Food Safety Podcasts
The Thriving Farmer Podcast has a podcast available here to help talk you through the logic of FSMA and determining your next steps.
Still not sure where to go next?