Chelsea Losh-Jones, Babe + Sage Farm
This blog post was made possible through a grant provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
In a previous blog post, I wrote about the basics of how the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) will affect small farms. In this edition, we’ll get into some of the nuts and bolts of food safety compliance on our small farm.
In June, we hosted a public GAP Walk-Through on our farm. Billy Mitchell from Global Growers and Brenden St. John from Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association walked us and several other farmers through our farm operation to talk about what looked good, what could be better, and what we needed to change soon to be GAP audit ready. Not gonna lie: it was a little nerve-wracking airing our farm’s dirty laundry in front of a group of other farmers! But we ended up with only a few minor adjustments to make before becoming compliant.
There were a few things we needed to change to be GAP audit ready: storing chemicals in a locking cabinet, installing shatterproof light bulbs in our pack shed, creating a separate break area for employees to store their coffee and snacks, buying a thermometer to calibrate our walk-in cooler, and pest-proofing some storage areas. We’re already doing a good job on lots of other stuff: washing hands in a separate handwashing sink between tasks, washing and sanitizing harvest containers, keeping animals and sitting water away from produce, logging cleaning tasks to ensure we do them every week, and storing everything off the ground (bins of harvested produce, clean bins, fertilizers, etc.).
If you’re not doing these things yet and it sounds overwhelming, have no fear! Start your food safety plan one piece at a time, and remember the simplest answer is often the best. At the end of our mock audit, Brendan estimated it would take 45 minutes of work and $40 for us to be GAP compliant. We use a $20 camping sink for our hand-washing sink and Global Growers uses buckets with a spout drilled into them. We’ve lined the floor of our walk-in cooler with free milk crates to raise bins of produce off the ground. Household bleach diluted to the proper strength sanitizes just as well as a more expensive product like SaniDate. Storing chemicals properly saves you time and money. Eliminating clutter from your pack shed will make you work more efficiently. Keeping better records will undoubtedly make you a better farmer.
Our biggest take-away has been the importance of writing it down. You and and your employees are far more likely to do it correctly if you have it written down. Keep the most important information in front of you. Employees are more likely to wash their hands if there is a sign telling them to. You are more likely to check the walk-in cooler’s temperature if you see a thermometer and a log sheet when you walk in. You are more likely to properly dilute your sanitizer if you have the recipe written on the bottle.
The only way to tackle your food safety plan is one step at a time. I hope you will learn, as we have, that food safety is about more than just passing an audit; it’s about running your farm more effectively.
Also, wash your hands more often!