North Shore Economic Vitality Partnership:
Food Safety & More (Food and Farmers Series)
Produce GAPs Harmonized Food Safety Standard
Aquaponics Good Agricultural Practices Pilot Guidance
GoFarm Hawaii AgBusiness Program
Food Safety Tips & Resources
September is National Food Safety Month!
We want to make staying healthy & enjoying great locally-grown food even easier…
North Shore EVP has joined with Hawai’i businesses & organizations to share resources & tips to do just that!
Tip #1 is a Restaurant Food Safety Tip Brought to You by Haleiwa Joe’s Restaurant!
We all enjoy a meal out, especially when it’s at a restaurant that sources local food! Thanks to our partner Haleiwa Joe’s, we can bring you some information on how the restaurant industry works to ensure your safety when you eat out.
Many of the same practices that you employ in your home kitchen are used in restaurant kitchens to ensure food is handled safely and properly. Restaurants differ though in a few respects, notably that there’s a team of people responsible for preparing your meal and cleaning up after. This means that everyone on the team must be on the same page in providing the highest quality service and remember to follow the rules, through a long day of work and multiple rounds of dishes, cooking, and cleaning.
In addition to washing hands often and always after using the restroom, and keeping foods properly separated and chilled, employees must do a few things that you may not do at home.
Restaurant employees wear hair coverings and remove jewelry to be sure hair doesn’t fall into food and germs aren’t transferred from jewelry to guests’ food. Food service workers who have symptoms of illness or are sick should never handle food or be anywhere near the kitchen. Illnesses like the flu are easily passed from person to person and via contaminated surfaces, so it is important for sick employees to stay home and for cleaning and sanitizing to be done regularly.
Restaurants use a lot of sponges, paper towels, and rags. Single use items are easy to dispose of but sponges and rags should be used minimally as they can harbor bacteria. Sponges should be tossed out every few days and rags should be washed and sanitized daily.
Restaurant employees often wear disposable gloves, this is required in some states. Gloves are used to protect the food from employees’ hands, and it is important for food preparation that involves direct contact, like making a sandwich.
For more information on Hale’iwa Joe’s & their locations, check out their website.
Tip #2 is a Food Safety Tip for Your Home: Strategies for a Cleaner Kitchen!
Cooking at home is relaxing for some people and a great way to be sure you are adding locally grown food into your diet. There are many farmers’ markets and CSA (community supported agriculture) programs to choose from where you can select locally-grown fruits and vegetables for home (North Shore EVP is working to bring a regional food hub to Oahu’s North Shore community).
To be sure you are food safe in your kitchen, see how many of these tips you are already following and which ones you can incorporate into your routine!
- Always wash your hands with soap and water before handling produce, meat, or any other foods.
- Cutting or peeling produce? Wash it first! Soil and germs can be spread from the outside of the produce to the inside with your knife or peeler.
- Separate your produce, meat, eggs, and fish! Use different cutting boards, plates, and utensils. Color coded cutting boards are a great way to differentiate what’s for what!
- Refrigerator temperature should be between 40F and 32F. Freezer temperature should be at 0F or below. To keep your stored foods safe, always thaw meat in the refrigerator on the bottom shelf, away from everything else. Plastic bags are a good way to contain blood and juices. Clean and disinfect your refrigerator shelves and drawers regularly.
- Beware of using your personal electronic devices in the kitchen! A 2016 study of data collected by the Food Safety Survey found that of the over 4,000 adults contacted, only about 1/3 reported washing their hands after they touched their device and before they continued cooking! People use various devices while cooking to research, use recipes, and listen to music or podcasts, and pathogens may be present on these devices. Commonly found pathogens on cell phones are Staphylococcus and Klebsiella (causes different types of infections including pneumonia).
Tip #3 is a Home Garden Food Safety Strategy from Kokua Hawai’i Foundation
Do you grow your own food at home, or want to? Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation’s ʻĀINA in Schools program is a farm to school initiative that connects children to their local land, waters, and food to grow a healthier Hawaiʻi. Whether you have keiki at home or not, you can grow herbs and leafy vegetables easily in pots or in a small garden.
Gardens are enjoyable for many reasons, providing a place to get back to nature, teach keiki about plants and animals, bringing beautiful flowers and veggies into your personal space, and for the sustenance that growing your own food provides. Here are some tips from Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation to practice safe gardening at school or at home!
To be as safe in the garden and kitchen as possible, we offer these tips about best practices for food safety in the garden.
- Organic soil fertilizers like compost should always be purchased from reputable locations to make sure they aren’t carrying harmful bacteria. Composted manure is certified to have heated up to the point where pathogens are killed. Aged manure is certified to have sat long enough for pathogenic bacteria to be outcompeted. Other organic fertilizers may have been sterilized to prevent exposure to disease causing bacteria to both our vegetables and ourselves. If you are going to make compost yourself you can decrease the chance of contaminating your pile by only composting food scraps, ensuring it heats to 130 degrees for at least 10 days, turning it regularly, and letting it age for two months after finishing.
- Grow your vegetables with the cleanest water possible. If catchment water is used to water plants in the growing process, try to make sure that it does not contact the edible portion of your crops.
- Animals should be kept out of the garden as much as possible as their droppings easily contaminate produce. House pets should be kept away from growing beds and any produce touching bird or gecko droppings should be discarded.
- Harvest and eat the healthiest plants that you can–these also are the most nutritious!
- Wash your hands before harvesting produce you intend to eat raw.
- Clean and sanitize tools in both your kitchen and garden, especially if you are using them to help turn unfinished compost!
- Thoroughly wash and inspect your garden produce under running potable water.
- Wait to wash your vegetables until you are ready to eat them. Cleaning produce removes some barriers plants use to defend themselves. Washed produce goes bad much more quickly in storage compared to produce that has only had dirt and soil removed!
To download a Resource Guide on School Garden & Food Safety, visit Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation’s website. We encourage you to explore their other ʻĀINA In Schools resource guides, which include tips on how to build raised garden beds, compost with bokashi, create a worm composting bin, build a compost sifter, and more.
Tip #4 is a Farmers’ Market & Grocery Store Tip
Whether buying food at the grocery store or at the farmers’ market, it is always good practice to wash your produce before you prepare or eat it.
Residues and Germs on Produce: How to Minimize Exposure
- Produce may have pesticide residue on it when you purchase it, even if it is grown organically (certain pesticides are available and approved for use in organic growing systems). Pesticides may include applications made at the farm level to control insects or fungus, but may also come from the processing steps before the produce gets to the consumer.
- Produce may have bacteria on it from handling during harvest or transport. Farms that employ Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) have policies in place to minimize this contamination and are regularly audited for compliance.
- To minimize your exposure to residue or bacteria, utilize the following strategies in your kitchen:
- Clean your hands with soap and water first, and clean your surfaces and utensils too.
- Rinse produce in fresh running water, and use a brush to help remove soil from thick skinned or bumpy products.
- A new study (University of Massachusetts Amherst) found that using baking soda in tap water (about one teaspoon per 2 cups water) and soaking the product (apples) for 12-15 minutes was more effective at removing pesticide residues than the typical bleach and water solution. However, it must be noted that the purpose of the bleach and water solution is to remove bacteria, not pesticide residue.
- To reduce the chance of bacterial contamination on your produce, a vinegar rinse (1/2 cup vinegar in 1 cup water) followed by a fresh water rinse has been shown to be effective.
Below we've tried to cover questions that we are often asked. If you do not see an answer to your question below, please contact us via our contact form and one of our staff will respond as soon as possible.
What is the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA)?
Signed into law in 2011, the Food Safety and Modernization Act is the most comprehensive U.S. food safety regulation overhaul since the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938. The law provides a creation process for food safety rules and accompanying guidance. Rules and guidance are drafted by the governing authority, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with input from other government agencies. They are then presented for industry and public comment before a final rule is issued.
What does FSMA cover?
FSMA includes standards on how fresh produce is grown and handled. It covers the processing and manufacturing of food for human or animal consumption. It also provides provisions for third-party monitoring and certification and addresses food safety issues in the transportation process.
What kinds of businesses are affected by FSMA?
A business is likely to be affected by FSMA if it raises livestock, grows produce, or processes, transports, or distributes food for human or animal consumption.
How long do food hubs and their producers have to comply?
Businesses comply with a rule based on an effective date. The effective dates for compliance for farms growing covered produce are in effect as of January 2022, so all farms should be following the Produce Safety Rule standards.
What is Group GAP?
The USDA Group GAP is a farm food safety audit program that allows a group of producers to attain GAP certification as a group. Each year, all farms within the group receive annual internal audits and unannounced audits, and a subset of farms in the group receive a third party USDA audit. Over time all farms in the group receive a third party USDA audit.
How does the food safety partnership work?
We implemented a Group Good Agricultural Practices (Group GAP) food safety certification program. Through Group GAP, our staff works with farmers to develop individual farm safety plans, put food safety training into practice, and conduct audits at each farm. In March 2022 we merged our GroupGAP program with Fresh Systems LLC, a GroupGAP group of farms across 7 states on the mainland. This approach allows us to focus on directly assisting farms in Hawaii and reduces the administrative work related to managing a Quality Management System. It also enlarges the total number of farms in the group, and connects Hawaii farmers to more technical assistance and guidance from GAP experts and practitioners across the nation.
Isn’t food safety certification difficult?
By standardizing the on-farm food safety documentation process our Group GAP program builds a network of farms that share safety and quality standards. Through our training program we assist farmers with record keeping, risk assessments, and implementation of food safety practices. This approach makes it easier than ever for your farm to become food safety certified.
I’m new to farm food safety! What records should I start with?
Congratulations on starting your farm’s food safety journey! Keeping some basic records is a great way to begin. Some simple records to start with include: restroom cleaning, cleaning and sanitizing, harvest logs, pesticide applications, and fertilizer applications.
How long is the GAP training and certification process?
For farms that are selected to participate in the cohort, the process may take anywhere from 6-12 months or more. Certification is achieved more quickly when the farm is organized, keeps records consistently, and engages in regular communication with staff to complete the USDA requirements. Maintaining GAP certified status is a continual process of adhering to a farm food safety plan, completing records, and passing internal and external audits.
How should I keep my food safety records?
There are several record keeping systems a farm can use. Traditional paper records stored in binders or file cabinets are difficult to organize and keep clean while working on the farm. Digital record keeping on Excel or Google Docs is a good alternative to paper records. Our GroupGAP program recommends using the digital record keeping system HeavyConnect.
How much does it cost for a small farmer to become and stay food safety certified?
Food safety certification costs can vary from farm to farm depending on the farmʻs infrastructure. GroupGAP program costs are assessed annually, and are currently heavily subsidized due to successful grant proposals and philanthropic donors. Our research indicates that the Group GAP program is the best approach to keeping food safety certification costs as low as possible. While costs may rise slightly over time, we are committed to making GroupGAP affordable for Hawaiʻi farmers.
Will your organization help with water quality issues?
At this point in time there is uncertainty surrounding the FSMA water quality standards and we are waiting for final rules from the FDA. Nonetheless, NSEVP is committed to the success of our participating farms and will work with them to address any water quality issues that may arise. We encourage water quality testing for all farms, and assist our GroupGAP participating farms with determining frequency of testing and developing mitigation practices when necessary.
How does the NSEVP business model compare with other distribution and retail models?
Our model is unique to Hawaii. As a non-profit organization our commitment is to farmers and communities in Hawaiʻi, not shareholders or out-of-state owners. Together our food safety certification program, future food hub packing facility and community learning center work in unison to deliver the best prices we can to participating farmers, increase local food production, and create new jobs in agriculture on the North Shore. It is our hope that this business model can be replicated across the State.
Is the organization just for Hawaii?
Our Group GAP program is focused on serving farmers and aggregators across the state of Hawaiʻi.
What is a food hub?
A business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand.
How does the food hub work?
The food hub will but food safety certified produce from local growers and fulfill high volume contracts with buyers such as hotels, grocery stores, schools, and hospitals.
Will you take both organic and conventional products?
Yes! Organic produce is in high demand and working with farms to increase market access is a high priority for the food hub. We want to support ALL North Shore farmers, organic and conventional growers alike, and provide the best produce to our clients.
How can the food hub help me?
NSEVP wants to become your partner in food safety certification and access to new markets. Our Group GAP food safety certification program qualifies you to sell to our food hub and, when constructed, the food hub will be ready to buy as much produce as you can grow. The hub will lower your cost of production by picking up at your farm, handling all post-harvest work, and doing all of marketing and sales needed to move your products to market.
How will a market be created/found that the food hub will sell to?
The Food Hub is already working to establish commitments from large buyers seeking locally produced, food safety certified produce. Our current clients are all on Oahu, but we expect to market North Shore produce across the state and, depending on what farmers grow, establish export markets that provide the best margins to the hub (and prices to the farmers!).
How will the food hub provide information to farmers on what buyers are looking for?
The Food Hub will develop demand projections based on historical sales and expected demand from existing and new clients. These data will be evaluated to produce a forward-looking schedule of products that the Food Hub will look to purchase from participating farmers.
Will farmers selling to the food hub have to sign exclusivity agreements?
No! Farmers will not be required to sign an exclusivity agreement with the Food Hub. In fact, we encourage participating farms to keep their existing accounts. We will ask farmers to sign a participation agreement whereby they will commit to selling some portion of their production (to be determined by the farmers) to the Food Hub and will be prohibited from selling to the Food Hub’s clients.
How long does a farmer have to be in an agreement with the hub?
We need to receive input from farmers, but we expect that the participation agreements will be evaluated and renewed annually along with the Group GAP certification.
Will the food hub allow farmers to use facilities to create their own value added products?
The Food Hub will be a food safety certified packinghouse facility with little capacity to produce value-added products (except for such items as pre-cut veggies or salad mix). There are currently no plans for shared use of the facility however we do plan to have refrigerated space for rent to local businesses. North Shore EVP has received many inquiries about community kitchen and slaughterhouse facilities, so stay tuned!