How to Get Food Safety Certified

Why should you consider food safety certification?

  • Being proactive and having a food safety plan in place along with proper documentation is recognized as a wise business practice.
  • Maintaining a clear record of how food was handled and stored, with proper attention being paid to best practices in food safety, assures the people buying your produce that it is coming from a clean, well-managed environment.
  • With many retailers requiring food safety certification, you will increase your ability to gain entry into wholesale and retail markets.

What are the Steps to Food Safety Certification?




Step 1: Develop a Food Safety Plan

Developing and following a written food safety plan is an important step toward minimizing the risk of produce contamination on your farm.

This website offers a free, easy-to-use online tool that allows small to mid-scale farmers like you to develop a customized food safety plan. Create a Food Safety Manual will prepare you for an actual food safety audit by helping you assess risk areas specific to your farm operation. In addition to generating a customized on-farm food safety plan, the tool will provide your farm with recordkeeping templates to help document your food safety program and employee training. To view a sample food safety plan, click here.

By utilizing this tool and the accompanying forms, you are providing evidence of your operation?s commitment to reduce the risk of produce contamination grown on your farm.

A completed food safety manual includes:

1. A completed assessment of risk areas specific to your farm operation. Create a Food Safety Manual will help you generate this assessment.

2. All necessary documentation including record keeping forms, training logs, and official documentation received from accredited laboratories. Form templates are provided on the site. Click here for form samples.

To begin creating your customized food safety plan, click here.

Step 2: Implement Your Food Safety Plan

1. ORGANIZATION: Create a binder to house your food safety plan, all necessary forms, and supporting documents. Being organized will prepare you for your food safety audit.

2. TRAINING: Once you have a plan in place, you need to train your employees on your food safety policies and procedures. Use your food safety plan as a training manual. Training logs are available on this site.

3. FOLLOW-THROUGH: So, you have developed a food safety plan, your staff is trained, and you are keeping track of necessary records. To have an effective food safety program, you also need a grower commitment to the plan and continuously reinforce the practices presented in your plan. Diligence in this area is an exemplary business practice.

4. SELF-AUDIT: In addition to creating a food safety plan, performing a self-audit is a great pre-audit tool. Visit the Resources section for self-audit examples.

Step 3: The Food Safety Audit

FOOD SAFETY CERTIFICATION: If you are considering food safety certification, there are different certification options to choose from that vary by audit frequency, GFSI recognition, and other features.

The type of certification you choose will depend on your retail and supplier requirements. Many retailers are requiring full-certification that is recognized by GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative). GFSI is an organization that benchmarks existing standards against food safety criteria by comparing food safety schemes to the GFSI Guidance Document. Examples of food schemes include GlobalG.A.P and SQF (Safe Quality Food Institute). Once you have a food safety program in place and are ready to schedule an audit, first consult your selected third-party auditor, retailers and suppliers about their certification requirements and options.

For more information, visit the following sites:

1. USDA Gap and GHP Audit


3. GlobalG.A.P

4. SQF

SCHEDULE AN AUDIT: Once your food safety program is in place along with records and documentation, the next step towards food safety certification is to schedule a food safety audit.

When scheduling your audit, do keep in mind that you or another representative will have to be present during the audit. The length of time for an audit depends on the size of your operation.

Initially, you will be asked to send the auditor records, such as an aerial map of your fields and facilities. These records may help identify potential sources of contamination in proximity to your production area.

Many diversified growers are unsure if an audit certifies their entire farm. In actuality, audits vary state-to-state, but most often, an audit only certifies one crop. So, it is up to you, the grower, to specify which commodities and which fields or packing facilities you would like certified. The auditor will then schedule a visit when your specified produce is being harvested.

THIRD-PARTY AUDITORS: Click here for a list of third-party auditors.

Here is what to expect on the day of your food safety audit:

1. REVIEW: The auditor will first review your customized food safety plan that you have generated and any attached documentation.

2. THE AUDITOR: The auditor is an observer, not a regulator. For example, you may have entered in your food safety plan that every field worker is required to wear gloves, an apron and a hat or hairnet. The auditor can observe that all field workers are following the policy, but they do not stipulate what the policy should or should not entail.

3. POINT SYSTEM: The auditor will assess whether you have implemented all the items outlined in the food safety plan using a ?matrix? checklist in which each risk area is assigned a point system based on compliance.

4. PHYSICAL INSPECTION: The inspection includes the physical assessment of each field or facility that you have chosen to be considered for certification. The auditor will observe harvesting operations and may even question your employees to ensure that they have a working knowledge of the food safety plan. During the inspection, the auditor will also take into account items such as corrective action procedures, inspections of field equipment, documentation of water tests, cleanliness and proximity of toilet facilities, your traceability system and pest control management.

5. REASONS FOR FAILING INSPECTION: There are many reasons an audit can automatically fail. Examples may be the presence of an immediate food safety risk, evidence of pests, unsanitary conditions and falsification of records. At the point when an automatic failure is observed, the audit will stop and you will be issued a corrective action form. You would then need to determine which measures must be taken to correct the problem and reschedule the audit.

6. FOOD SAFETY CERTIFICATION: The auditor will review your food safety report with you. The complete report will then be sent to the certification body, and your final audit report and certificate will be mailed to you.


*This list is not all-inclusive.

1. United States Department of Agriculture

2. AIB International-Assessment

3. NSF Agriculture (formerly NSF Davis Fresh)

4. PrimusLabs

5. Scientific Certification Systems

6. Safe Quality Food Program (SQF)

If you are interested in learning more about food safety and food safety certification, training sessions are often offered through your local agricultural extension office.