U.S. Department of Agriculture ( File Photo )

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it will provide $3.7 million of assistance to fruit and vegetable growers through the Good Agricultural Practices Assistance Program. 

The Good Agricultural Practices or GAP are, “voluntary audits that verify fruits and vegetables are produced, packaged, handled and stored as safely as possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards,” according to the USDA. 

The program will begin in January and will cover up to 100% of the cost of GAP audit and GAP Plus+ audits for farmers, according to a news release. These two audits are the most comprehensive the USDA offers and they are aligned with the regulations on the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act. 

The millions in assistance to growers in 16 states will improve market access by helping to cover the costs of undergoing voluntary USDA Harmonized Good Agricultural Practices audits.

In order to qualify for this assistance program, producers must be located in an AMA-eligible states (as determined by Congress): Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming. If any of these states are already utilizing a Specialty Crop Block Grant those funds may need to be re-allocated to other eligible expenditures. 

The program allows growers to produce safe food and suppliers their produce meets the standards set by the FDA and USDA.