Asparagus growers should prepare for third-party audits now

Because of its early harvest season, asparagus growers need to be preparing for third-party audits during the winter months.

Fresh asparagus growers who went through third-party audits last year know that there are weeks, and maybe even months, involved in preparing for your first audit. Third-party audits generally need to be performed during the harvest season of the crop being audited. As asparagus is one of the first crops harvested in Michigan, growers who are facing their first audit this spring need to begin work preparing well ahead of the growing season.

Developing a food safety policy and manual for your farm is one of the first tasks to get started on now. Most growers find this to be the most daunting part of preparing for third-party audit, but Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) can help with this task. The Agrifood Safety Workgroup website, maintained by lead MSUE food safety educator Phil Tocco, is one resource for asparagus growers preparing for an audit. A blank manual can be downloaded from the website and used as a template for building a manual specific to your farm. Growers can insert farm information in the blanks provided. Required information includes food safety policies written specifically for the audited farm and the names of persons on the operation responsible for food safety-related tasks. If growers need more help, Tocco’s Agrifood Safety Minutes are short video clips, also available on the website, that help explain the intricacies involved in building a food safety manual.

Growers should order food safety training videos for workers prior to the audit. This allows growers the convenience of including food safety training at the same time that they handle other paperwork and trainings. This should speed up paperwork processing and minimize employee down-time. In a pinch, some county MSUE offices, including Oceana County MSUE, have a limited number of approved training DVDs that they will loan out to asparagus growers.

Growers should be shopping or contracting third-party audit compliant field sanitation units well in advance of the audit. While these units are more available than a few years ago, prices and the services provided by companies, including important things like spill clean-up, still vary and will require time to research.

Water tests are required for many water wells associated with farm use. Finding an accredited water-testing lab, taking and submitting samples can all be done months ahead of the audit. Taking care of this in the winter can free time for the grower to complete immediate tasks just prior to the audit.

Other tasks that should be done well ahead of audits include developing a traceability system for your product, cleaning and maintenance of equipment and lugs, and inspecting fields and landings for potential hazards such as wildlife and litter.

Getting through your first food safety audit shouldn’t be intimidating, but it does take preparation, forethought and time – so start early!

More information on this topic: http://gaps.msue.msu.edu/

Farm safety notices posted at a farm.
Photo 1. Farm safety notices posted at a
farm.

Asparagus in crates.
Photo 2. Asparagus in crates.

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