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.

Call for volunteers: if you are interested in serving on the Technical Working Group of the Harmonized, please visit this link to sign up. Expect 1 face-face meeting/yr plus a phone call or two and some emails.

For more information about the Produce GAPs Harmonization Initiative, contact Dr. Jennifer McEntire, or Dr. Emily Griep.

Harmonized Training

Members of the Calibration Committee for the Harmonized are authorized to provide training for the Harmonized Standard. The trainings listed below cover the Harmonized Standard, at a minimum, but may also include additional elements (e.g., related to the specific audit process, GFSI requirements, etc.). Please see further information below on available Harmonized Training.

Upcoming Workshops

To be notified when the future Harmonized Standard training courses are available, please contact Dr. Emily Griep, Manager of Food Safety. 

Harmonized Standard Webinars

Webinar – The Harmonized Standard: Myths, Legends and it’s Growing Role in the Marketplace
August 9, 2018
Webinar Recording Playback on United Fresh YouTube page 
Download the Webinar Slides

Webinar – Harmonized Standard Refresher Training
August 10, 2018
Webinar Recording Playback on United Fresh YouTube page

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.  

Standard Interpretations

Occasionally, questions regarding the interpretation of specific standards are brought to the Calibration Committee for resolution. These scenarios are discussed via email, a summary is written based on consensus, and final resolution is discussed during a quarterly call with the committee. In limited cases, final resolution by the committee may result in recommendations to update the standard, at which point a letter is drafted by United Fresh that may serve as the official interpretation until the time at which the standard is brought through the official review process.

The following scenarios, applicable to the standards as they are numbered in the “Combined Harmonized Standard V.1.1”, were posed to the Calibration Committee.

Audit Organizations Using the Harmonized

These audit organizations, and others, are using the Harmonized Standards for GAP audits. Please click on the company name below for more information. Audit organizations listed are for identification purposes only. The United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce GAPs Harmonization Initiative do not endorse or warrant the services of any particular entity.

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 evaluated 13 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. 

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, here. 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.

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.

A summary of interpretations may be found under the ‘Download the Harmonized Standards’ section on this page.  

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. United Fresh supports this recognition. 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 perform an audit to the Harmonized?

United Fresh maintains a current list of audit organization that are licensed to use the Harmonized, as shown above. 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 above under the tab “Audit Organizations Using the Harmonized”. 

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.

What is the process to resolve disputes on interpretation of the standards?

First, the dispute should be brought to the organization conducting the audit for internal resolution. If the audit organization is unable to come to a resolution, the question may then be brought to the Calibration Committee. The committee will discuss the scenario in question and come to a consensus on how to interpret the standard in that situation. In limited cases, final resolution by the committee may result in recommendations to update the standard, at which point a letter is drafted by United Fresh that may serve as the official interpretation until the time at which the standard is brought through the official review process.

A summary of interpretations may be found under the ‘Download the Harmonized Standards’ section on this page.  

Contact Dr. Jennifer McEntire or Dr. Emily Griep at United Fresh with any further questions.