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Washington Food Safety Fruit & Vegetable Audits Expanding Rapidly

Producers look to take more steps after food-borne disease outbreaks.

August 11, 2008

1 Min Read

After high-profile food-borne disease outbreaks and increasing concern among produce distributors, fresh fruit and vegetable farmers are seeking third-party verification of farm practices that reduce the risk of E.coli, listeria and other illnesses.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture is conducting a growing number of audits using USDA Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices. Through the process, WSDA's auditors verify that growers and processors are following best management practices to reduce the risk of microbial contamination of fresh produce.

More than 128,000 acres of Washington produce were audited last year, up from 10,200 in 2005.

GAP audits, conducted during the growing season only cover the growing process of fresh fruits and vegetables in the field. GHP audits, conducted year round, review the procedures used at produce warehouses and packing plants.

While the audits are voluntary, an increasing number of national wholesalers and retailers require GAP/GHP certification as they source their food products. Federal nutrition programs, including the school lunch program began requiring the audits last year, and many international buyers are looking for proof audits were conducted.

"We want the buyers of Washington fruits and vegetables to know that they are getting the highest quality produce on the market," says Jim Quigley, WSDA's Fruit and Vegetable Inspection Program manager.

"GAP audits allow our growers to keep pace with the competition and sell to national and international buyers increasingly concerned about farming practices. By reducing the risk of microbial contamination, these audits can help guard against a major product recall that can impact a business for years to come."

More information about GAP/GHP audits can be found at: www.agr.wa.gov/Inspection/FVInspection.

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