GAP Harmonization Initiative
In June 2009, the United Fresh Food Safety & Technology Council endorsed a plan to drive harmonization of GAP standards, to reduce audit fatigue and allow operations to focus their food safety resources on achieving food safety, rather than passing audits. This plan evolved into the Produce GAP Harmonization Initiative, an all-industry effort including growers, shippers, produce buyers, government agencies, audit organizations and other stakeholders. Click here for additional background.
The goal of the harmonized standard is “One audit by any credible third party, acceptable to all buyers.” To achieve this goal, the Initiative has developed food safety Good Agricultural Practices standards and audit checklists for pre-harvest and post-harvest operations, applicable to all fresh produce commodities, all sizes of on-farm operations and all regions in the U.S., and has made them available for use by any operation or audit organization at no cost.
Harmonized Standards Training
For information on upcoming tranings please email Erin Grether.
The Produce GAPs Harmonized Standards workshop will focus on the use and interpretation of the Combined Harmonized Standard. Training is open to all audit organizations and interested parties using the harmonized standards or those who intend to offer audits/certifications to the Harmonized Standards.
Our one-day training features the official training materials developed by the Produce GAPs Harmonization Initiative Calibration Committee, designed to standardize food safety auditors’ use and expectations of the combined, Pre- and Post-harvest Harmonized Standards.
The training will cover the details of what an auditor should expect to see at an operation, how an auditor evaluates an operation based on the evidence they observe, and how evaluations may change based on different scenarios.
Download the Harmonized Standards
In July 2016 the Technical Working Group updated the Harmonized Standards. The red-lined versions were posted and open for comment until November 21, 2016. The Technical Working Group considered the comments and finalized version 1.1.
- Field Operations and Harvesting Harmonized Standard V.1.1
- Post-Harvest Operations Harmonized Standard V.1.1
- Combined Harmonized Standard V.1.1
- Field Operations and Harvesting Standard (Spanish)*
- Post-Harvest Operations Harmonized Standard (Spanish)*
Redline Harmonized Standards
Endorsement of the Harmonized Standard
Audit Organizations Using the Harmonized
Harmonized Standard FAQs
What is the Harmonized harmonized to?
The Harmonized was developed by a group of 150 volunteer technical experts in the areas of food safety and growing and handling practices for a wide variety of commodities and growing regions who evaluated13 commonly accepted fresh produce food safety standards, identified the commonalities and selected the words from each that best suited a common standard, without sacrificing any food safety considerations. Additional background on the Harmonized can be found in this 2013 article by Dr. David Gombas (https://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/magazine-archive1/junejuly-2013/produce-gaps-harmonization-the-goal-is-in-sight/)
How is the Harmonized scored?
The Harmonized does not including a scoring system. Each audit organization may select a scoring approach (major/minor, numerical score, pass/fail etc.). At one time, assigning a score was contemplated, but varying interpretation by buyers led to the conclusion that the effort would focus on food safety requirements, not the audit process.
Will my customers accept an audit performed to the Harmonized Standards?
The Harmonized is widely accepted. A representative list of major buyers that accept the Harmonized is on the United Fresh website. https://www.unitedfresh.org/content/uploads/2014/07/Who-is-endorsing.pdf United Fresh is always happy to share additional information with buyers who may not understand the scope of the Harmonized, the benchmarking with GFSI, or alignment with the Produce Safety Rule. Not surprisingly, some buyers have additional requirements that can be added as riders or addenda.
What is United Fresh’s role in the Harmonized?
United Fresh serves as the Secretariat for the Harmonized Standard. In 2009 the association helped convene a diverse group of stakeholders to review and harmonize existing GAP audit standards, with the goal of “One audit by any credible third party, acceptable to all buyers.” Initially several working groups, consisting of United Fresh members and non-members, worked on various aspects of the effort. Currently, United Fresh coordinates the efforts of a Technical Working Group and the Calibration Committee. United Fresh does not conduct audits, issue or otherwise manage certificates, set prices, or otherwise lead or influence the audit process.
Who makes up the Technical Working Group (TWG)?
The Technical Working Group is comprised of over 150 stakeholders, representing, Customers, suppliers, government, audit companies, association staffs across various commodity sectors. They include a broad scope of operation sizes and producing regions from North America. The TWG offers open invitation for participation for those interested in participating. To join the TWG, please contact Jennifer McEntire at United Fresh firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who makes up the Calibration Committee?
The Calibration Committee is comprised of individuals representing organizations holding a licensing agreement for the Harmonized as well as technical industry experts. The Calibration Committee is responsible for real-time dispute resolution on interpretation questions and the development of official auditor training materials.
Has the Harmonized been benchmarked to GFSI?
In 2016, GLOBALG.A.P North America successfully took the Harmonized (referred to as “HPSS”) through the GFSI benchmarking process. Other groups are also undertaking the benchmarking process.
- Does this mean that an audit to the Harmonized standard will meet the requirements of customers who require GFSI? Not necessarily. Although all licensees use the same technical standard (verbatim), the process and structure around conducting the audit is up to each audit organization and is not under the authority of United Fresh. This is part of the benchmarking process, and may vary. In addition, there are a few additional topics (e.g., food defense) that GFSI requires be bolted on to the Harmonized, and these topics are handled differently by different audit groups. At this point in time, of all organizations offering the Harmonized, only GLOBALG.A.P.’s HPSS is recognized by GFSI.
How does the Harmonized compare to the Produce Safety Rule?
They line up well. In July 2016, the Technical Working Group (including FDA representations) for the Harmonized Standard compared the elements of the standard to the requirements in the Produce Safety Rule, and as applicable, the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule. Changes to the Harmonized were proposed, and the updated standard was open for comment before being finalized in late 2016. USDA’s Ag Marketing Service (AMS) has also worked with FDA to attain recognition that the Harmonized adequately covers the requirements of the Produce Safety Rule. However, we don’t expect that FDA will ever consider the Harmonized or any other audit as a substitute for a regulatory inspection.
- So if I’m certified to the Harmonized does that mean my farm won’t be inspected? A Harmonized audit is not a substitute for a regulatory inspection. However, FDA has verbally stated that they are considering how certification by USDA AMS (a sister agency) may, along with other factors, reduce the frequency of inspection.
How can I find someone to preform an audit to the Harmonized?
The United Fresh website lists the audit organizations that are licensed to use the Harmonized: https://www.unitedfresh.org/food-safety/gap-harmonization-initiative/. Producers interested in the Harmonized should reach out to them directly. United Fresh does not conduct audits. Licensed organizations are free to determine all aspects of the audit process including fees, scoring, etc. Producers should evaluate different audit organizations to determine which is right for them.
How are auditors trained?
The licensing agreement requires that “all auditors under the Licensee’s control, care, employment, or use shall not perform any audits under the copyright work until having successfully completed training using official training materials as prescribed by the Calibration Committee.”
I’d like to audit to the Harmonized. How can I do that?
United Fresh makes the technical standard freely available and license it to several audit organizations. We do not conduct audits. It’s up to the licensees to employ (or contract with) auditors, ensure they are trained, manage certificates etc. We recommend you contact one of the audit companies to understand how you can become an auditor for them. State departments of agriculture also perform a number of GAP audits. You can find a list of licensees here: https://www.unitedfresh.org/content/uploads/2016/07/Where-we-are-now-TWG.pdf
How or where can I find Harmonized Training Auditor or Grower Courses?
The different licensees conduct training, some of which is open/ public. Please contact United Fresh if you’re interested in being trained.
What is the process to update or adjust the Harmonized Standards?
Recommendations and requests for changes to the Harmonized must be submitted to United Fresh and then reviewed by Calibration Committee for recommendation to TWG. The TWG will then consider these comments/proposals and make actionable updates as necessary. All changes to the Standards will be published as draft on the United Fresh website with an open industry comment period. Without objection, the final Harmonized documents will become new versions with proper notification to all parties involved.
Contact Dr. Jennifer McEntire at United Fresh with any further questions.