What is a third-party audit?

It is a voluntary farm evaluation by an accredited organization (the ‘third party’) to check whether produce safety practices are in place and standards are being met – resulting in certification. Growers can then show that certificate to distributors or other buyers who are requesting proof that their produce is safe. For example, the Nevada Department of Agriculture is designated by the USDA to be a third party auditor for federal Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) standards in the State. There are also private food safety certificate schemes and auditors working on the national and international scene, such as Primus and NSF.

According to the recent assessment of food safety practices on 1,000 farms in the US, most farms have not had a third party audit and many were confused about what an audit is.

Farms typically want a third-party audit when their buyers are requesting it and/or when they are preparing to expand their production and market area. Given that DFI went through a GAP audit this past year, we thought we’d share our key takeaways:

  • Although some of the newest harvest tools on the market are super-efficient (such as a hand drill-powered greens harvester with rolling brush and canvas basket), they do not necessarily meet GAP standards. Farms have to be able to clean and sanitize all parts of harvest tools that contact produce1.
  • Ensure that all records are complete and available to expedite the audit. 
  • Have test results available for all animal-based products (compost, fish emulsion fertilizer, bone meal, feather meal, etc.) to show they are pathogen free. Or, otherwise show how they are not causing risk of contamination.
  • Be prepared for at least a 3 to 4-hour audit and a bill of about $1,000 (based on time for the audit itself and paperwork).
  • Finally, we highly recommend doing a self-audit (use these State resources) and a mock audit in advance of a formal audit. The Nevada Department of Agriculture will schedule a mock audit at no cost and it will prepare you well for passing the real thing.

If your farm is subject to the FSMA Produce Safety Rule then a produce safety visit from the Nevada Department of Agriculture is in your future anyway. FSMA standards are not as rigorous as USDA GAP and do not result in ‘certification’, but we are hearing that a FSMA food safety plan + successful inspection may now suffice for distributors and buyers with food safety requirements. A bonus is that those FSMA inspections are free of cost! Remember, DFI and the Department of Agriculture offer ‘on-farm readiness reviews’ as well – a free, voluntary farm visit to help you prepare for a FSMA inspection.

Click here for a DFI publication with more information on FSMA and GAP. 

Interested in how audits play out on large produce farms shipping nationally and overseas? Here is an article on audits at Peri and Sons (10,000 acre farm in Mason Valley) focusing on the competitive edge that can be gained from produce safety certification.

Contact DFI or the Department of Agriculture for further information.

1DFI is in conversation with the manufacturer of this equipment and the Nevada Department of Agriculture to address produce safety issues that were highlighted during the GAP audit.

Moe, J. 2020, Third-Party Audits: produce safety practices, Desert Farming Initiative, University of Nevada, Reno, Blog

Learn more about the author(s)

 

Also of Interest:

 
Non-Chemical Weed Control for Small Acreage Farmers in Nevada
Many small acreage farming operations are organic-based or strongly prefer weed management recommendations that preclude the use of conventional herbicides. The purpose of this fact sheet is to provide basic information and resources on non-chemical weed control options for these...
Davison, J. and Newton, J. 2012, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension
 

Associated Programs

radishes

Food Safety Program

The Initiative's Food Safety Program provides services and resources for growers throughout the state of Nevada. The Initiative partners with the Nevada Department of Agriculture to demonstrate produce safety practices, share guidance and provide training.