Content

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are GAPs required?

Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) are not regulated or required by any governmental agency. They are intended as guidance to help growers establish safe practices. In some cases, being GAP-certified may protect a grower against some liability. Implementation and/or certification in GAPs may sometimes be required by some individual buyers who want to be able to guarantee to customers that their produce is safely supplied.

What is the difference between HACCP and GAPs?

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) is designed to apply to processed food, including processed fruits and vegetables, while Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) apply just to fresh produce. HACCP is required by law for producers of meat and poultry, seafood and juices, but is not required by law for other food products. GAPs is not required by law. It is strictly voluntary.

What is the difference between GMPs and GAPs?

Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and apply to processed fruits and vegetables, but not to fresh fruits and vegetables. GMPs regulate the production, for example, of acidified foods (such as pickles), fruit preserves (jams and jellies), baked goods, dressings and condiments, and frozen fruits and vegetables. GAPs are suggested guidance, not regulation, and they apply to the production of fresh produce.

What is fresh produce?

In short, raw fruits and vegetables. Fresh fruits and vegetables are likely to be sold to consumers in an unprocessed (raw) form. Fresh produce may be intact, such as whole strawberries, carrots, radishes or tomatoes, or cut from roots or stems during harvesting, such as celery, broccoli, lettuce or cauliflower.

What are “processed” fruits and vegetables?

Processed fruits and vegetables are regulated by the FDA and are defined as foods that have been removed from their raw or natural state through steps such as canning, cooking, peeling, freezing, dehydrating or milling. Foods that remain in their raw or natural state, including fruits and vegetables that are washed or colored prior to marketing, are fresh produce and are not considered processed.

What is fresh-cut produce?

Fresh fruits and vegetables for human consumption that have been minimally processed and altered in form by peeling, slicing, chopping, shredding, coring or trimming, with or without washing, prior to being packaged for use by the consumer or a retail establishment. Examples are pre-cut, packaged and ready-to-eat salad mixes. Fresh-cut produce does not require additional preparation, processing or cooking before consumption, with the possible exception of washing or the addition of salad dressing, seasoning or other accompaniments.

What is the Bioterrorism Act and how does it pertain to fresh produce?

The events of September 11, 2001, reinforced the need to enhance the security of the United States. Congress responded by passing the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (the Bioterrorism Act), which President George W. Bush signed into law June 12, 2002. To carry out the provisions of the Bioterrorism Act, FDA published, on October 10, 2003, Registration Of Food Facilities, which requires domestic and foreign facilities that manufacture/process, pack or hold food for human or animal consumption in the United States to register with the FDA. In the event of a potential or actual bioterrorism incident or an outbreak of foodborne illness, facility registration information will help FDA to determine the location and source of the event and permit the agency to quickly notify facilities that may be affected.

Farms that produce fresh fruits and vegetables are not required to register, provided that they meet the definition given by the FDA of a farm. A “farm” is defined as a facility in one general physical location devoted to the growing and harvesting of crops, the raising of animals (including seafood) or both. Washing, trimming of outer leaves and cooling of produce are considered part of harvesting. The term “farm” also includes facilities that pack or hold food, provided that all food used in such activities is grown, raised or consumed on that farm or another farm under the same ownership, and facilities that manufacture/process food, provided that all food used in such activities is consumed on that farm or another farm under the same ownership. Facilities that produce processed food regulated by the FDA, for example, that remove food from their raw or natural state through steps such as canning, cooking, peeling, freezing, dehydrating or milling, are required to register.

Facilities can register online by completing a form or submitting to FDA a CD with relevant registration information. For more informationon the Bioterrorism Act, visit the FDA website or register a food facility online.

What are the most common foodborne pathogens? What are the symptoms of infection? How are they usually transmitted from the farm to the consumer?

Campylobacter is a bacterium that causes diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain and fever within two to five days after exposure to the organism. Symptoms usually disappear within about a week, but patients with compromised immune systems can sometimes develop a life-threatening infection of Campylobacter in the bloodstream. Campylobacter is a fragile bacterium that cannot live in a dry environment. It lives only in low-oxygen environments. Freezing reduces its numbers. It is most closely associated with birds such as poultry, which can carry it without becoming ill.

Campylobacter is most often contracted from eating raw or undercooked poultry meat or other foods that have been cross-contaminated from contaminated poultry meat. Infection has been associated with lettuce or salads, where cross-contamination during preparation was suspected to be the source. The bacterium has been shown to survive on sliced melons long enough to be of danger to consumers. Campylobacter can be carried in contaminated surface water, especially when the water is in proximity to poultry or livestock.

Clostridium botulinum is a bacterium, common in soil, that causes botulism, a rare but serious paralytic illness. Botulism is caused by ingestion of the bacterium itself or of the toxin that it produces, but in all cases it is considered a medical emergency and can be fatal. Symptoms, which include lethargy, drooping eyelids, double vision, difficulty swallowing, slurred speech and muscle weakness, generally appear between 18 and 36 hours after eating contaminated food but can appear within as few as six hours or as many as 10 days.

Botulism is most often associated with canned foods with low acid content, because the bacterium cannot survive in acidic conditions and requires relatively warm temperatures and anaerobic conditions to grow and produce toxin. Although C. botulinum is common in soil, outbreaks have been more often linked to cooked or processed vegetables than fresh vegetables. Outbreaks have been linked to shredded and packaged cabbage, sliced onions, garlic packaged in oil and packaged mushrooms. Refrigeration and proper hygienic handling of produce is thought to lower the chances of contamination.

Cryptosporidium is a protozoan intestinal parasite that must be passed from host to host in order to survive. Little is known about this organism, but infection usually results in extremely watery diarrhea and is most pronounced in adults with compromised immune systems. Healthy adults may not show symptoms when infected.

Cryptosporidium is passed from one host to another through infected feces. It can therefore be transferred to produce either by infected produce handlers that do not wash their hands, or through soil that is contaminated with human feces. Large outbreaks have been linked to contaminated water supplies, suggesting that irrigation water may be another transmission route. The transmitted stage of the protozoan is resistant to most chemical disinfectant, but is susceptible to drying and to the ultraviolet portion of sunlight.

E. coli is a very large group of common intestinal bacteria. Most strains are harmless, but some can cause diarrhea and a few can be deadly. The most common deadly strain of E. coli in North America is 0157:H7, sometimes also called “Shiga toxin-producing” E. coli (STEC), verocytotoxic E. coli (VTEC) or enterohemorrhagicE. coli. E. coli outbreaks are usually associated with the 0157:H7 strain. Symptoms of infection are variable but can include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Most people recover in 5 to 7 days and infection is usually mild, but it can be life-threatening.

Since E. coli is carried in the intestines of ruminant animals, such as deer and cattle, and humans, infection is usually caused by ingesting food contaminated with human or animal feces. Infection has most often been linked to undercooked meat products or unpasteurized milk, but fresh produce has also been implicated. Because methods of ridding contaminated produce of the bacterium have not been shown, prevention of contamination is stressed instead.

Hepatitis A is a virus that is usually passed from one infected person to another through the ingestion of infected feces. The virus attacks the liver and causes somewhat mild symptoms that include a sudden onset of fever, nausea, loss of appetite and abdominal discomfort, followed in several days by jaundice. Most people recover in a few weeks without complications. Symptoms usually appear about 28 days after exposure to the virus, but infected people are highly contagious for one to two weeks before symptoms appear.

Hepatitis A can be passed anytime infected feces move from unwashed hands to food. Contamination by infected food service workers is common. Water, shellfish and salads are most commonly implicated in outbreaks. Contamination can usually be avoided by encouraging workers to wash their hands, even if they do not feel sick.

Listeria is a bacterium found in human intestines, soil and water that is usually harmless to healthy adults. It can cause Listeriosis, a serious illness that usually affects pregnant women, infants, the elderly and adults with compromised immune systems. Symptoms of infection usually include a fever, muscle aches and sometimes diarrhea or nausea, and the infection can spread to the nervous system where it causes a stiff neck, loss of balance, and convulsions.

Listeria is readily transferred from soil and water to fresh vegetables, and the bacterium can grow on raw and fresh-cut produce that is refrigerated. It is hardy and resistant to freezing, drying and heat. It is recommended that both growers and consumers thoroughly wash fresh vegetables.

Noroviruses are viruses, sometimes called Norwalk-like viruses or calciviruses, that cause the stomach flu. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and some stomach cramping. Most people who contract the stomach flu from noroviruses recover in 1 to 2 days. Symptoms usually occur within 1 to 2 days of contraction of the virus.

The virus is transmitted from infected to uninfected people through feces or vomit. Infected people who do not wash their hands, for example, can pass the virus on by contaminating food products that they touch. People who experience the stomach flu are contagious from the time that they begin feeling symptoms and can remain contagious for up to 2 weeks after recovery. It is estimated that as many as half of all food-related outbreaks of illness may be caused by norovirus. In many of these cases, sick food handlers were implicated.

Salmonella is a group of bacteria, found in the intestines of humans, birds and other animals, that can be carried from feces in soil, water, contaminated machinery surfaces and raw meats. Symptoms of infection are usually experienced within 6 to 48 hours of ingestion and can include nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, fever and headache. Symptoms usually disappear in 1 to 2 days but can become prolonged and lead to long-term arthritis.

Salmonella outbreaks have most often been associated with undercooked meat and poultry products, but the bacterium has also been linked to fresh produce, most notably cantaloupe and sprouts. Once produce becomes contaminated, the bacterium appears to grow most rapidly in cut or damaged fruits and vegetables that are stored at temperatures between 68 to 86°F.

Shigella is a group of bacteria that are carried in human feces. Symptoms generally appear within 12 to 50 hours of ingestion and include abdominal pain and cramping, diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and blood and pus in the stool. Most cases recover completely, although it may take months for bowel movements to return to normal.

Shigella is most often found in water contaminated with human feces. It is usually transmitted from person to person but it can be carried on fresh produce that is contaminated by water, soil or contact with unwashed hands. Sick workers can remain contagious for one to two weeks after recovery from symptoms. Flies that breed in contaminated feces can also carry the bacterium to vegetables where it may be ingested.

Source for foodborne pathogen information: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA publication, Incidence, Growth, and Survival of Pathogens in Fresh and Fresh-Cut Produce.