Handling your food…
Laura Ungvary recently completed a training session offered by the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences on Good Agricultural and Food Handling Practices. Laura recently joined us at the farm as our new Growing Manager and Food Safety Program Coordinator. She holds a Bachelors and a Masters degree in Horticulture from ASU, and has been a wonderful addition to the farm.
Food handling and safety has always been of the utmost importance to us on the farm. We have always practiced careful and safe handling of produce in every step, from picking and packaging to transport and storage, to insure that our customers receive the freshest produce. The program Laura attended is the next step in helping us to refine our processes and to receive certifications in Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP). Right now in the state of Arizona there are only eighteen large farming operations that hold both of these certifications. We are working to become the first small farm operation to have these certificates.
So, what does that mean?
These certifications are designed to make sure that produce suppliers and packers are handling and storing fruits and vegetables in the safest manner possible to minimize risk of microbial food safety hazards. Food outbreaks, such as the recent one in Germany, stress how poor food handling can have dangerous repercussions. By receiving the USDA GAP and GHP certificates, we will have audits of our operations to examine our farming practices, our facilities, and all of our protocols. Everything from our water usage and soils, to field sanitation and hygiene, washing procedures, storage and refrigeration and the manner in which we package produce will be reviewed. Since our products are sold directly to consumers at outdoor markets and to restaurants, taking this extra step to reassure our customers that we are handling your food safely is very important to us.
As you know, we have always taken great care to make sure that our produce is refrigerated at the exact temperatures needed to protect and store all of our different varieties of fruits and vegetables. In the Arizona heat, proper refrigeration at all stages is essential. Keeping your produce at the proper temperatures will not only keep it tasting better and staying fresher longer, it will prevent spoilage and wilting. We have even posted previously on how our customers can properly care and store our produce once they get it home. This post has been so popular that it is now a permanent link at the top of our blog home page. To print a copy, you can find it here.
These certificates are voluntary, but just as with our organic certification, we feel that taking these extra steps lets our customers know that we take organic farming seriously. Customers want to know where their food is grown, and these certificates allow our customers to know how it is handled also.