Tesco Nature’s Choice, British Retail Consortium, Safe Quality Food 1000 and 2000, U.S. Department of Agriculture GAP, Costco, Food Alliance, GlobalGAP, Primus, Protected Harvest …. These are just a few of the audit schemes our industry warehouses are engaged in as they move your high-quality tree fruits towards the end consumer. They represent a market-based effort to address one or more of the following: food safety, sustainability, and business integrity.
To date, these audits are primarily taking place at the warehouse level. Many warehouses have hired a food-safety person or sustainability coordinator to prepare and maintain the documentation of good handling practices within the warehouse. This individual represents the warehouse in the audit process, but there are often an additional two to four warehouse staff involved in the four- to eight-hour audit process. And this commitment of resources is repeated for each audit scheme for each crop every year. While substantiating appropriate, science-based food-safety practices is useful, we do not want this maze of audit scheme requirements replicated at the orchard level.
Thus, in order to prepare for the inclusion of the orchard (i.e., production site) within the audit schemes, the Washington State Horticultural Association board has proactively developed GRAS2P: Growers Response to Agricultural, Safe, and Sustainable Practices.
GRAS2P is not another audit program. GRAS2P is an audit readiness program. It includes a domestic component, an export component, and a sustainability component; all are designed to prepare growers and their orchard operations for a third-party verification audit.
GRAS2P is a Washington tree fruit grower-based effort for audit readiness. It encompasses food-safety operating procedures, establishment of standards for sustainable practices, traceability from market back to farm, and continued use of good agricultural practices in orchards.
Washington tree fruit growers are already producing safe food; GRAS2P provides the framework to measure what we are currently doing on-farm and to encourage continual improvement in agricultural practices.
Documenting your food-safety and sustainability practices is somewhat akin to organizing your income and expenses for Uncle Sam. If you do it on a fairly regular basis throughout the year, you are ready for April 15, and there are rarely any major surprises. However, if you tend to procrastinate or put all the paperwork in a shoebox for review down the road, the one or two weeks leading up to April 15 can produce all sorts of ill humor.
To encourage the first scenario, your Hort Association is developing a small arsenal of tools; you can select those tools that best fit your orchard operation. Three industry advisory teams have helped draft the initial documents of GRAS2P. Revisions have been made based on additional feedback from team members, HACCP training, GlobalGAP training, and in-orchard experiences.
Guidance Manual: The GRAS2P Orchard Operations Guidance Manual covers the processes, policies, and procedures involved in preparing your orchard’s documentation systems for third-party audits. It is set up for direct use or can be modified to whatever degree most appropriately expresses the policies and practices of your business.
EZ Tools: The EZ Tools provides you, the grower, with quick to-do checklists. There is one for your orchard site that can be utilized as you conduct your regular inspections of the property. There is also one to track your progress in organizing the paperwork to document your good agricultural practices. It cross-references the domestic and export audit elements, identifies what documentation will be accepted, and offers helpful hints. (Continued on page 44)
Coaching: By enrolling in GRAS2P, you will be able to partner with a GRAS2P coach/specialist. Together, with support from WSHA staff, you and your coach can use the GRAS2P tools to prepare your orchard business for a third-party audit as well as continued use of good agricultural practices in your orchard.
Nearly 12 GRAS2P specialists have gone through HACCP training and on-site orchard audit training. They are ready to assist you in conducting a mock audit at your orchard and identify those areas that need to be addressed in order for you to pass the real thing.
Templates for safety signage: In the appendices of the guidance manual, there are templates for required signage. Most of these signs are ones that you already have posted for state requirements and which are provided for you via Washington Growers League, Farm Bureau, etc. It is not the intent of GRAS2P to replace or compete with these sister organizations and the important work that they do within and for our industry. The templates are provided to ensure that you have a comprehensive representation of what is needed to prepare for food-safety audits.
Additional tools: Prior to the start of the growing season, GRAS2P will also be working on educational videos for on-site training, hazard analysis templates, and, later in the year, a fruit school to focus on horticultural topics of sustainability.
Participating in GRAS2P will provide the following direct benefits for your orchard operation:
• Audit readiness
• Better management systems
• Crop specific and science-based criteria
• Documentation systems
“Step by step involvement” (chart on page 43) identifies the process you can take to become involved in GRAS2P and prepare for orchard audits.
The first series of workshops will be held in conjunction with the 2009 annual meeting of the Washington State Horticultural Association in Wenatchee on December 9 and 10. Each workshop is a half day. The cost is $75 for all three workshops or $30 for a single workshop.
An additional $50 covers the cost of the GRAS2P Orchard Operations Guidance Manual, which is required for participation in workshop sessions, and is available only to members of the Hort Association.
For more information, contact Susan Pheasant, GRAS2P program director, at (509) 665-9641, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or check the Web site www.wahort.org.