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Risk Management and Food Safety

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We encourage farms and food businesses to consider risk management and food safety as they plan to expand their sales to schools and other institutions. 

In this section, learn more about:

The same regulations apply to schools as to any other market, and farms should be familiar with the requirements for selling their products.  Additionally, some institutions may have additional requirements for certifications or insurance than some other direct markets.  Farm to School is a new business model for many farms - ensuring farm and business practices that reduce risk is critical to the ongoing success of these projects.

Schools, childcare centers, hospitals, and other institutional buyers are asking questions about regulations, food safety and liability as they consider local sourcing of food products. They may ask for documentation that food is grown and handled safely on the farm. The may also require that farms have product liability insurance to protect them and their customers.

Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs)

Good Agricultural Practices are a voluntary set of food-safety guidelines designed to help farmers handle food safety from the farm to the market. These practices include:

  • Developing a food safety plan for the farm
  • Training farm employees about this plan and farm food safety practices
  • Documenting farm practices to reduce the risk of dangerous bacteria or toxins on farm products

Schools and institutions do not necessarily require that farms have third party food safety certifications, though we receive questions about food safety more frequently than in the past. Federally, it is not required that school food vendors have GAP certification. Some schools do require the certification, and many wholesalers and food distribution companies contracting with schools do require it. Certification of GAPs is a voluntary, annual audit process that certifies that a farm shows commitment by management and staff to follow and maintain these practices.

WSDA Bridging the GAPs Farm Guide

WSDA has been working on a project called Bridging the GAPs since 2011 to identify and share best practices relating to on-farm food safety for growers operating small, mid-sized and diversified fruit and vegetable farms in Washington State. This GAPs Farm Guide is a culmination of the workshops WSDA's Food Safety Division's Small Farms and Direct Marketing Education and Outreach team held in partnership with WSDA’s Good Agricultural Practices (GAP)/Good Handling Practices (GHP) auditor team in the WSDA Fruit and Vegetable Inspection Program. Click on the images below for FREE download of the GAPs guide offered both in English and Spanish.

WSDA Bridging the GAPs Farm Guide - English - cover Bridging the GAPs Farm Guide [PDF 18.6MB]





WSDA Acercando Las Buenas Practias Agricolas la Guia Acercando Las Buenas Practiás Agricolas la Guia [PDF 14.1MB]





Watch this video to learn more about WSDA's Bridging the GAPs on-farm workshop project.

Also listed down below are Good Agricultural Practices resources to learn about how they may relate to your farm operations. Check out the WSU Extenstion Food Safety and Good Agricultural Practices [external link] and the WSDA GAPs Audit Program websites to learn more about Good Agricultural Practices and GAPs certification. Please contact us with any questions you may have about food safety and institutional markets.


Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)

FSMA represents the largest update to federal food safety laws in 70 years. When FSMA was signed into law by President Obama in 2011, it authorized FDA to take a preventative approach to food safety. The FDA finalized seven rules under FSMA that regulates farms and food businesses along the supply chain.  

In partnership with the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) is developing and implementing a Produce Safety Program. This program will encourage the safe production of fruits and vegetables thereby reducing the public health risks for consumers of Washington.  By using both education and enforcement, the program will promote understanding of and compliance with the FDA Produce Safety Rule [external link], a component of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) [external link].

The program will address two key goals:

  • Help Washington farmers comply with the FDA Produce Safety Rule.
  • Consistently and uniformly apply the FDA Produce Safety Rule in Washington State.

In 2018, WSDA received state authority under RCW 15.135 to conduct produce inspections. The Produce Safety Program is developing an inspection program that emphasizes education before - and while - they regulate.

Find out more from the WSDA's Produce Safety Program.


Product Liability Insurance

 Product Liability Insurance is a tool a farm can buy to protect the farmer and farm from financial risk. This kind of insurance protects farmers against people who may claim to suffer illness, injury, or loss due to the product the farmer sold to them. Product liability insurance covers medical expenses, the cost of a lawyer, and more.

What is Product Liability Insurance?
Product Liability Insurance is a tool a farm can buy to protect the farmer and farm from financial risk. This kind of insurance protects farmers against people who may claim to suffer illness, injury, or loss due to the product the farmer sold to them. Product liability insurance covers medical expenses, the cost of a lawyer, and more.

Who Requires Product Liability Insurance?
Product liability insurance is generally required for all farmers who sell to grocery stores, retailers, farmers' markets, and institutions such as schools, colleges, and hospitals. Institutions generally require between $1 million and $5 million in product liability insurance coverage. This means that if someone gets sick from a farm product, the insurance company will cover the medical or legal expenses of the injury up to $1 million or $5 million dollars in damage.

How To Get Product Liability Insurance For Your Farm:
Product Liability Insurance can be purchased either through an insurance company that specializes in farm insurance, or may be an additonal service offered by a homeowner, renter, or auto insurance company. Ask for recommendations and feedback about insurance from fellow farmers, the Farm Bureau and other agricultural advocates and business advisors.

Adapted from Food Safety and Liability Insurance for Small-Scale and Limited Resource Farmers, Community Food Security Coalition and USDA Risk Management Agency


WSDA Small Farm and Direct Marketing Handbook:
Regulations and Strategies for Farm Businesses in Washington State

The WSDA Small Farm & Direct Marketing Program publishes this handbook, popularly known as "The Green Book." This publication is available for download and aims to help beginning, established and/or transitioning farmers understand the rules and regulations for direct marketing and an endless range of food, flower, seed and nursery products in Washington State.  The book is updated with new information on direct marketing strategies and regulations for specific products is in response to frequently asked questions from farmers around the state.


Last Updated: 1/11/2019