Food Safety Certification For Aquaponics
Food Safety Certification, also known as the FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act, a new Federal law), which just went into effect on October 31st, 2015, is an inspection and certification program provided by independent third-parties that is similar to the services provided by Underwriter’s Labs. It is a set of Federal rules that dictate how farmers, ranchers, and food processors can have operations that are safe because they do not introduce harmful bacteria or other listed contaminants into the food that they sell the public.
(Below) Food Safety is simply the implementation of proper procedures to avoid dangerous contamination of food that would make people ill or kill them. It’s really a no-brainer; we mean, we all want that anyway, right?
Who needs Food Safety Certification can be a bit confusing, so we’ve made the following list:
1. If you sell less than $25,000 of produce per year, there is no requirement to be Food Safety Certified.
2. If you sell more than $25,000 but less than $250,000 of produce per year, you have until December 31st, 2019 to get certified, then after that, you must be certified. Period.
3. If you sell more than $250,000 but less than $500,000 of produce per year, you have until December 31st, 2018 to get certified, then after that, you must be certified. Period.
4. This one is a no-brainer: to sell to any store or grocery chain that requires Food Safety Certification, you have to be certified, regardless of the size of your farm. If you’re not certified, this can seriously limit who you are able to sell your produce to.
5. There is one exemption for small farms under certain conditions: if you sell less than $500,000 of produce per year either directly to the consumer or to restaurants or retail food stores within 275 miles of your farm, there is no requirement to be certified.
Why you need to pay attention to this: if you’re planning to be in the commercial aquaponics business for the next five years or more, and you’re planning on selling more than $25,000 per year of produce, you’re going to have to get food safety certification at some point, or you won’t be able to sell produce!
Federal Food Safety Certification is available through many private certification agencies. To get Food Safety Certified, simply contact a private certification agency and they will provide you with a “sample farm audit” sheet that you can use to prepare your farm for their inspection. For those of you who are taking our live 5-day Commercial Aquaponics and Greenhouse trainings, or who have purchased our Commercial Aquaponics DIY package, a complete “GAP Template” conforming to the new FSMA Food Safety Rules is provided in your DropBox folder “Certification”.
To make it as easy as possible for you, Susanne created this as a fillable form 78 pages long, which is in your DropBox files (if you’re taking our course or purchased our Commercial Aquaponics DIY package). To use it, simply replace the standard entries of [farm name] and [Ms. A. B. Cee] with your farm’s name and the names and contact information of the responsible persons. To make it even easier, Susanne has also included the USDA Harmonized Standard Audit (which is a checklist you can use to prepare your farm for a Food Safety inspection) and the Post-Harvest Operations USDA Checklist (which is a checklist you can use to prepare your produce packing facility for a Food Safety inspection).
Why would you want to get Food Safety Certified now instead of waiting until they force you to do it? Because more and more grocery chains and wholesalers are requiring it and will not buy your produce without it. If you get it now, you will have more choices about whom to sell your produce to. Alternately, avoid getting certified and your potential market will shrink, and may also not give you the best prices possible for your produce. You will need separate certifications and inspections for your farm, and for your value-added vegetable packing facility, if you have one.
Although this legislation governing the growing and harvesting of produce in your area isn’t in effect yet, it is certain that it will be soon. Food Safety Certification/HACCP Auditing is good practice, and will most certainly be required by law sooner rather than later. And it might save someone’s life. But we farmers certainly cannot be trusted to know this, and operate in such a manner because it is right, so must be monitored by the government (/sarcasm).
Some States (notably California) also have State-level requirements for Food Safety Certification, although it is not the same set of rules as Federal Food Safety requirements. For example, Temecula County requires everyone selling at local Farmer’s Markets and retail stores to take a one-day class on Food Safety before they’re allowed to sell through those outlets. Check with your State offices to determine if there are additional requirements for Food Safety Certification at your State’s level!