Implementing Farm to School Activities: Food Safety
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)
- Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP)
- On-Farm Food Safety Checklist Tools
- Product Liability Insurance
- Food Safety in School Gardens
- Food Safety and Salad Bars
- Food Safety with Local Meat, Eggs and Dairy
- General Food Safety Resources
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.
- HACCP-Based Standard Operating Procedures
In conjunction with the USDA and Food and Drug Administration, the National Food Service Management Institute developed SOPs for HACCP principals.
- The Process Approach for Managing Food Safety: A Manual for the Voluntary Use of HACCP Principles for Operators of Food Service and Retail Establishments
The Food and Drug Administration developed this resource in 2006 and it provides detailed on how to implement a HACCP plan in a food service environment.
- Guidance for School Food Authorities: Developing a School Food Safety Program Based on the Process Approach to HACCP Principles
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service created this resource as a guide for the implementation of HACCP-based food safety programs in school meal programs.
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.
- Fresh Produce Audit Verification Program
USDA provides a voluntary fee-for-service audit program which verifies adherence to the recommendations made by the Food and Drug Administration.
- On-farm Food Safety: Guide to Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs)
Developed by the Iowa State University Cooperative Extension Office, this resource provides and overview and resources about GAPs.
- National Good Agricultural Practices Network for Education and Training
Cornell University's Department of Food Service provides educational materials, research, and key contacts for information on GAPs.
- Penn State University Cooperative Extension GAP Training
Penn State University Cooperative Extension Office provides resources and information on their one-day trainings on GAPs.
- On-farm Food Safety: Food Handling Guide
Developed by the Iowa State University Cooperative Extension Office, this guide discusses safe handling techniques and provides additional resources.
- On-farm Food Safety: Cleaning and Sanitizing Guide
Developed by the Iowa State University Cooperative Extension Office, this guide presents cleaning and sanitizing tips on the farm, as well as a list of resources.
- Online Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) Certification Manual
Funded by USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA), FamilyFarmed.org developed a free online tool to help U.S. producers of all sizes achieve GAP certification by helping farmers design a customized manual to meet GAP certification requirements and mitigate business risks.
- Applying Good Agriculture Practices (GAPs) to Farm to School and School Gardens
As part of a four-part Produce Safety University webinar series funded by USDA, this webinar, hosted by the School Nutrition Foundation, discusses the relation between Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Farm to School.
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:
- Checklist for Retail Purchasing of Local Products
Iowa State University Cooperative Extension created a comprehensive food safety checklist for purchasing local products.
- Good Agricultural Practices: A Self-Audit for Growers and Handler
UC Davis Cooperative Extension developed a question and answer style audit that thoroughly explains each element of the GAP audit.
- How Do I Write a Food Safety Plan?
Penn State University Cooperative Extension Office provides a food safety model as well as several checklists and guidelines for GAP self assessment purposes.
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 and Liability Insurance: Emerging Issues for Farmer and Food Safety Report and Liability Insurance for Small-Scale and Limited Resource Farmers Brochure USDA’s Risk Management Agency funded the Community Food Security Coalition to research food safety practices and liability insurance and the impact on small and limited resource farmers; these guides provide the results of that research.
- Insurance Coverage Options for Fresh Produce Growers
This resource from North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Office outlines the different types of insurance farmers may consider purchasing.
- NC Market Ready - Liability Management
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Office provides several resources about liability and growers insurance.
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.
- Five Steps to Food Safe School Gardening
The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension provides guidance for reducing the level micro-organisms through good gardening and harvesting practices in a school garden.
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:
- Handling Fresh Produce on Salad Bars
This document was developed for USDA’s Produce Safety University and offers guidance on salad bar set-up, temperature control and clean up.
- Best Practices: Handling Fresh Produce in Schools
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service created a fact sheet describing best practices for handling all types of produce and steps to minimize contamination.
- Fruits and Vegetables Galore
This Food and Nutrition Service document discusses several aspects of buying fresh produce, including how to safely store and use fresh fruits and vegetables.
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.
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.
- USDA Food and Nutrition Service – Office of Food Safety
This USDA site provides many food safety resources specific to school food service.
- Produce Safety Training Material
USDA’s FNS and AMS developed training materials on produce safety that presents information on GAP, GHP, school gardens and farm to school.
- Addressing Food Safety in School Food Purchasing
As part of a four-part Produce Safety University webinar series funded by USDA, this webinar, hosted by the School Nutrition Foundation, discusses the geographic preference rule, and how to incorporate Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and liability insurance into purchases.
- Be Food Safe
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s Be Food Safe campaign is grounded in social marketing, behavior change, and risk communications theories. This site provides educators with tools to raise awareness of the dangers associated with improper handling and under-cooking of food.
- Food Safety Fact Sheets
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service developed fact sheets on a range of topics associated with food safety. Food Safety.gov
This website provides a direct link to many government food safety resources including the USDA, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Choice Plus: Food Safety Supplement
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service and the National Food Service Management Institute created this manual which explains how to apply food safety measures to your food procurement.
- Food Safety Begins on the Farm: A Grower’s Guide
Provided through Cornell University, this grower’s guide outlines necessary food safety measures to ensure safe consumption of local foods.
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety
The FDA website provides food safety guidance on regulations and product specifications, as well as information on foodborne illness and HACCP.
- Guidance for Industry: Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
This guide from the FDA addresses water sources, worker hygiene, manure, field and packing facility sanitation and transportation.
- Guidance for Industry: Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh-cut Fruits and Vegetables
This guide from the FDA addresses equipment, sanitation, production and packaging for fresh-cut produce.
- Food and Drug Administration 2013 Food Code
The Food Code serves as a model to help food control agencies at all levels of government by providing scientific and technical reasoning for regulating retail and institutional food service. Local and state agencies use the Food Code to develop and update their food safety rules to maintain consistency with national food regulatory policy.
- National Food Service Management Institute’s Food Safety Fact Sheets
The National Food Service Management Institute provides food safety fact sheets on a variety of food safety topics.
- Local Foods: From Farm to Food Service
Iowa State University Cooperative Extension Office has a website dedicated to farm to school topics, including food safety.
- Produce Safety Alliance
This Cornell University website provides several presentations and educational materials on general food safety topics and GAPs.
- Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN)
In 1996, the FDA and the University of Maryland established JIFSAN, which creates public-private partnerships, conducts research and develops training materials.