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TNAU Agritech Portal :: Good Agricultural Practices (GAP)

Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) for fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetable consumption is an important component of diet of the US consumers who have access to varied types of domestic and exotic fruits from all parts of the world.  As the consumption of fresh produce has increased in USA, it was also noticed that there was significant increase in the number of foodborne disease outbreak associated with fresh produce.  There were few cases where documented evidence had shown that the foodborne illness could be traced back to poor agricultural practices.  Media attention related to foodborne diseases associated with fresh produce caught attention and consequently many food experts have developed a strategy that would reduce the occurrence of microbial contamination.  Consequently, the food retailers have enforced their growers to follow certain growing practices which could reduce, not eliminate, the microbial contamination of produce. These practices are known as Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).

The concept of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) has evolved in recent years in the context of a rapidly changing and globalising food economy and as a result of the concerns and commitments of a wide range of stakeholders about food production and security, food safety and quality, and the environmental sustainability of agriculture.  These stakeholders include governments, food processing and retailing industries, farmers and consumers, who seek to meet specific objectives of food security, food quality, production efficiency, livelihoods and environmental benefits in both the medium and long term.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), GAP is the application of available knowledge to addressing environmental, economic and social sustainability for on-farm production and post-production processes resulting in safe and healthy food and non-food agricultural products.  Many farmers in developed and developing countries already apply GAP through sustainable agricultural methods such as integrated pest management, integrated nutrient management and conservation agriculture.  These methods are applied in a range of farming systems and scales of production units, including as a contribution to food security, facilitated by supportive government policies.

Presently, GAP is formally recognized in the international regulatory framework for reducing risks associated with the use of pesticides, taking into account public and occupational health, environmental and safety considerations.  The use of GAP is also being promoted increasingly by the private sector through informal codes of practice and indicators developed by food processors and retailers in response to emerging consumer demand for sustainably produced and wholesome food.  This trend may create incentives for the adoption of GAP by farmers by opening new market opportunities, provided they have the capacity to respond.

Considering the importance of GAP, fruits and vegetable farmers should adopt it and minimize the risk of contamination, right from pre-planting stage of crop to post-harvest stage of the crop.  
Some of the major risk and minimizing measures are highlighted below:


Pre-Planting Measures

Site selection 
Land or site for fruits and vegetable production should be selected on the basis of land history, previous manure applications and crop rotation.  The field should be away from animal housing, pastures or barnyards.  Farmers should make sure that livestock waste should not enter the produce fields via runoff or drift.

Manure handling and field application
Livestock manure can be a valuable source of nutrients, but it also can be a source of human pathogens if not managed correctly.  Proper and thorough composting of manure, incorporating it into soil prior to planting, and avoiding top-dressing of plants are important steps toward reducing the risk of microbial contamination.

Manure storage and sourcing
Manure should be stored as far away as practical from areas where fresh produce is grown and handled.  Physical barriers or wind barriers should be erected to prevent runoff and wind drift of manure.  Manure should be actively compost so that high temperature achieved by well-managed, aerobic compost can kill most harmful pathogens.

Timely application of manure
Manure should be applied at the end of the season to all planned vegetable ground or fruit acreage, preferably when soils are warm, non-saturated, and cover-cropped.  If manure is being applied at the start of a season, then the manure should be spread two weeks before planting, preferably to grain or forage crops.

Selection of appropriate crop
Farmers should avoid growing root and leafy crops in the year that manure is applied to a field.  Manure should be applied to perennial crops in the planting year only.  The long period between application and harvest will reduce the risks.

Production Measures

Irrigation water quality 
Ideally, water used for irrigation or chemical spray should be free from pathogen.  However, potable water or municipal water is not feasible for extensive use for crop production.  Hence, surface water used for irrigation should be quarterly tested in laboratory for pathogen.  Farmers can filter or use the settling ponds to improve water quality.  Fruit and vegetable crops should not be side dressed with fresh or slurry manure.  If side dressing is required, well composted or well aged (greater than one year) manure should be used for the application.

Irrigation methods
Drip irrigation method should be used, whenever possible to reduce the risk of crop contamination because the edible parts of most crops are not wetted directly.  Plant disease levels also may be reduced and water use efficiency is maximized with this method.

Field sanitation and animal exclusion 
Farmers should stay out of wet fields to reduce the spread of plant or human pathogens.  Tractors that were used in manure handling should be cleaned prior to entering produce fields.  Animals, including poultry or pets should not be allowed to roam in crop areas, especially close to harvest time.

Worker facilities and hygiene
Ideally, farm workers should be provided clean, well-maintained and hygienic toilet facilities around the farming areas.  Farmers should get proper training to make them understand the relationship between food safety and personal hygiene.  These facilities should be monitored and enforced.



Clean harvest aids
Bins and all crop containers have to washed and rinsed under high pressure.  All crop containers should be sanitized before harvest.  Bins should be properly covered, when not in used to avoid contamination by birds and animals.

Worker hygiene and training 
Good personal hygiene is particularly important during the harvest of crops.  Sick employees or those with contaminated hands can spread pathogens to produce.  Employee awareness, meaningful training and accessible restroom facilities with hand wash stations encourage good hygiene.

Post-Harvest Handling

Worker hygiene:  
Hands can contaminate fresh fruits and vegetables with harmful microbes.  Packing area should be cleaned and sanitized.  Supply liquid soap in dispensers, potable water, and single-use paper towels for hand washing.  Workers should be properly educated about the importance of restroom use and proper hand washing.  Encourage proper use of disposable gloves on packing lines.  Sick employee should not be given food-contact jobs.

Monitor wash water quality  
Potable water should be preferably used in all washing operations.  Clean water should be maintained in dump tank by sanitizing and changing water regularly.  Use chlorinated water and other labeled disinfectants to wash fresh produce.

Sanitize packinghouse and packing operations  
Loading, staging, and all food contact surfaces should be cleaned and sanitized at the end of each day.  Exclude all animals, especially rodents and birds from the packinghouse.  Wash, rinse and sanitize the packing line belts, conveyors, and food contact surfaces at the end of each day to avoid buildup of harmful microorganisms.  Packaging material should be stored in a clean area.

Pre-cooling and cold storage 
After harvesting, fruits and vegetables should be quickly cooled to minimize the growth of pathogens and maintain good quality.  Water bath temperature for cooling should not be more than 10F cooler than the produce pulp temperature.  Refrigeration room should not be overloaded beyond cooling capacity.

Transportation of produce from farm to market  
Proper cleanliness of the transportation vehicles should be ensured before loading.  Farmers have to make sure that fresh fruits and vegetables are not shipped in trucks which have carried live animals or harmful substances.  If these trucks must be used, they should be washed, rinsed, and sanitized them before transporting fresh produce.  For traceability norms, it must be ensured that each package leaving the farm can be traced to field of origin and date of packing.

The above-mentioned Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) are still at a nascent stage in India.  There are very few farmers who may be practicing it because of compulsion from the international buyers.  But it should be thoroughly emphasized that food safety, from farm to fork, is the responsibility of everyone throughout the food system.  In addition to growers and packers, food handlers such as food processors, retailers, food service workers, and even consumers in their homes have a responsibility for food safety.


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