Farms whose produce is used in federal food programs or sold to an increasing number of major processors and fresh packers must pass good agricultural practices audits. To help potato growers clear the audit hurdles, University of Idaho Extension educators have developed a Web site on which producers can learn about the audit's procedures and requirements, familiarize themselves with the paperwork a state department of agriculture auditor might ask to see, and fill in the forms electronically. The site can be found at http://www.kimberly.uidaho.edu/potatoes/gap.htm.



The site contains information required by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture. Other state departments of agriculture have similar but possibly different requirements. Check with your local state department to find out what is expected.



"We are trying to make it really easy and offer a one-stop source so growers can get all of their information here," says Nora Olsen, an Extension potato specialist in Kimberly who worked on the site with Extension educators Steve Hines and Dale Baker. The trio note that the effort is a proactive one, because potato products have not been implicated in contamination incidents.



"Our whole idea was to streamline the process so growers would know ahead of time what documents they need to maintain," Baker says. "We included a standard operating procedures document they can use and samples of all of the recordkeeping documents that are necessary to comply with the audit. Some of the audits will take place during the harvest period, so this is something growers don't want to take a lot of time to work up during a busy season. If they have those documents on file and filled out, they can show them to the auditor and go back to work."



Since 9/11, consumers have stepped up their demands for proof that their food is safe to eat, says Becky Baker, food safety supervisor at Potandon in Idaho Falls. The way to meet that customer-driven requirement is with audits and certification procedures, Baker says, which is why Potandon is requiring all of the growers with whom it contracts to participate in the certification process.



Baker expects the Web site to be "very useful. It really isn't difficult to be certified: It's a matter of documenting growers' activities on a farm in a more detailed manner so that their program procedures, log sheets, employee training and water tests can be audited."



In addition to documents and standard operating procedures, the Web site includes audit checklists, Spanish- and English-language employee policy forms, and information on ordering such items as employee training placards and videos. Users can download the printed materials and compile their own comprehensive manual in a three-ring binder.



For more information, contact Olsen at norao@uidaho.edu or (208) 736-3621.

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