In order to provide food safety guidelines that are practical and relevant for the wide variety of fruits and vegetables grown and handled in Canada, commodity-specific food safety manuals for fruit and vegetable crops and for greenhouse product were developed. These manuals are based on an internationally recognized system called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points or HACCP, which helps identify where hazards in the production and handling of fruits and vegetables may occur. The manuals were developed by producers, packers, repackers, wholesale, brokerage and storage operations, other industry representatives and food safety experts to ensure that they are based on the best available science and are realistic. The CanadaGAP® requirements complement food safety programs that truckers, processors, retailers and food service distributors are using and are consistent with other international initiatives.
The CanadaGAP manuals have been designed to be economical, easy to use and practical for operations that produce and handle fruits and vegetables. The manuals provide users with standards for practices on the farm, in storages, in the packing house, and in repacking, wholesaling and brokerage operations, from planting until produce is shipped. Some key areas included in the manuals:
- Employee hygiene
- Clean water
- Clean food contact surfaces
- Good agricultural practices (including agricultural chemical, fertilizer and manure application)
- Equipment and supplies
Most of these food safety practices are not new. Canadian produce suppliers have been using these practices for years. The CanadaGAP manuals provide a usable and consistent way that this can be demonstrated to customers.
Commodity-specific Working Groups for each crop grouping used the HACCP approach to complete a generic HACCP model, which provides the foundation for each manual. The same process was followed to develop the generic HACCP model for Repacking and Wholesale operations. This approach involves completing a process flow diagram showing all facets of production, packing, repacking and wholesaling, and the inputs and production steps; brainstorming all the risks associated with biological, chemical and physical hazards; identifying areas where more research is needed; reviewing published, peer-reviewed science and working closely with qualified technical experts in fresh produce food safety; and identifying and describing Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) or Critical Control Points (CCPs) that will control each hazard. Specific requirements and procedures are then transferred into each manual.
An integral part of the development process included testing the manuals at farms, packinghouses, and repacking and wholesale facilities across Canada. Pilot participants were owners/operators who volunteered to try out the manuals with the support of a consultant. Pilot sites were chosen from across all producing provinces to include as diverse as possible a mix of commodities within each group, types of operations (e.g., small and large, those already implementing food safety programs and those who are new to food safety) and a range of activities. The process of pilot testing ensured that manuals were “user friendly”, workable and understandable, and that all food safety risks relating to that commodity had been adequately addressed and in such a way as to incur the minimum burden on program participants. Pilot testing of the manuals concluded in 2007.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) manages the Technical Review process on behalf of federal-territorial-provincial teams. The manuals and generic HACCP models were submitted to representatives from the federal and provincial governments for a rigorous review process. Once the reviews were complete, CFIA provided a letter recognizing the technical soundness of the program on behalf of the federal and provincial governments. Benefits of receiving this letter include:
- Government endorsement of the industry-led initiative
- Added credibility and assurance that the industry’s program is based on the best available science
- Foreign acceptance of the Canadian government process lends credibility to industry-developed programs that have undergone Technical Review.
To maintain Government Recognition,CanadaGAP is required to undergo regular reviews of program updates by CFIA.