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Farm To School

Implementing Farm to School Activities: Food Safety

Last Modified: 03/24/2014

Food Safety is an element that must be addressed when implementing Farm to School efforts. School districts need to consider the farm where the food is produced and ensure that the appropriate practices are in place to help prevent potential foodborne illness. School food service professionals and farmers should familiarize themselves with Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP). In addition, it is advisable for school districts and farmers to contact their State and/or County Health Department for information on local food safety requirements. Although not inclusive, below is a list of food safety resources organized by topic area that provides basic definitions of food safety terms and links to sites with more information. These resources may be used by school food service as well as growers. For additional information, please visit the Food Safety section of the USDA Farm to School Team 2010 Summary Report and USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service Food Safety website. For resources on food safety training materials, please visit our Resources

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP)

HACCP is a systemic, preventive approach to managing food safety that addresses the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards from raw material production, procurement and handling, to manufacturing, distribution and consumption of the finished product. 

Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP)

GAP is a collection of principles used to improve on-farm production and post-production processes. These principles evaluate chemical, microbiological, and physical hazards and require producers to take proactive, preventative controls which reduce the opportunity for those hazards to affect the safety of the product. GAPs focus on four primary components of production and processing: soil, water, hands, and surfaces.

GHP is a set of recommendations or guidelines that address food safety from the basis of an operation’s overall food safety program, and includes issues such as worker health/hygiene issues and the facility’s cleanliness and sanitation. These guidelines generally concentrate on packing and storage facilities as well as wholesale distribution centers.

On-Farm Food Safety Checklist Tools

On-farm food safety checklist tools can help guide the discussions between school districts and farmers, as well as assist farmers in the development and implementation of their on-farm food safety practices. Below are a few examples:

Product Liability Insurance

Many grocery stores, farmers markets, schools and hospitals require farmers to have liability insurance. Buyers and sellers should consult their legal counsel and insurance agent for more information.

Food Safety in School Gardens

School food service must ensure that all foods served to students, including food from the school garden, are safe from biological, chemical and physical hazards. Precautions should be taken for in-ground and raised bed gardens. Before using any produce from a school garden, visit the garden and ask the garden coordinator about the growing practices, including the history of the land use, water sources, soil sampling and results, use of any fertilizers, and animal control measures.

Local and State agencies may have stricter food safety policies related to allowing produce from school gardens to be used in Child Nutrition Programs. It is best to contact your local and State health department for more information. Below is a list of resources related to food safety in school gardens:

  • Food Safety Tips for School Gardens
  • This document was one of the training materials that was developed for USDA’s Produce Safety University. It offers guidance on site selection, composting and serving garden produce in the school meals program.
  • Food Safety in the School Garden
  • University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources provides information on food safety in the school garden.
  • Urban Agriculture and Improving Local, Sustainable Food Systems
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Urban Agriculture & Improving, Local Sustainable Food Systems website has a number of resources related to community gardens that could apply to school gardens.
  • Safety in the Garden
  • The California Department of Education provides information on soil preparation, water, building materials, and harmful plants.
  • Five Steps to Food Safe School Gardening
  • The University of Connecticut’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources provides guidance for reducing the level microorganisms through good gardening and harvesting practices in a school garden.

Food Safety and Salad Bars

Salad bars represent one way to offer fresh produce to students. Local and State agencies may have stricter food safety policies related to salad bars used in the Child Nutrition Programs. It is best to contact your local and State health department for more information. Below is a list of resources related to food safety and salad bars:

Food Safety with Local Meat, Eggs and Dairy

School districts interested in incorporating local meats, eggs, and dairy products into their school meal programs should be aware of any Federal, State, and local requirements. School district food service directors should contact their local and State health departments to determine these requirements.

  • Inspection and Grading of Meat and Poultry: What are the differences?
    This USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) resource provides an overview of Federal inspection and grading standards. FSIS outlines mandatory inspections and voluntary grading opportunities.
  • Slaughter Establishment Availability
    This document from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) maps the availability of Federal- and State-inspected slaughter and processing facilities. The document also includes maps which highlight areas where small livestock and poultry farms exist.
  • Mapping Slaughter Availability in the U.S.
    This entry from USDA’s Know York Farmer, Know Your Food blog discusses USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s role in facilitating the growth of small farms.
  • Small Plant News
    USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service’s Small Plant News provides information and guidance for small Federal- and State-inspected producers of meat, poultry and egg products.
  • Federal Grant of Inspection Guide
    Developed by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, this guide will help small operators apply for a Federal Grant of Inspection.
  • Meat, Poultry and Egg Product Inspection Directory
    This directory lists all establishments that produce meat, poultry and/or egg products and are inspected by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.
  • Virtual Representative: “Ask Karen”
    “Ask Karen” is USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service virtual representative and contains a knowledge base with information for consumers about preventing foodborne illness, safe food handling and storage, and safe preparation of meat, poultry, and egg products.

General Food Safety Resources

Ensuring proper food safety is an important aspect when incorporating local foods into your school meal programs. The resources below provide general information to help ensure the local foods you serve are not only nutritious but safe.