College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences

Best Produce Safety Practices for Boutique Farms: A Self-Assessment Tool

Foodborne sicknesses related to fresh produce can be mitigated during production and in the post-harvest period using Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) to decrease the risks of product contamination. Farms can use GAPs to keep organisms that cause human sickness, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, away from produce. Unfortunately, controlling each source of microbial contamination on the farm is impossible, but numerous things can be done to decrease the dangers.

Contamination can happen at any point within the flow of food from the farm to the dinner table. Our focus here is the pathway from your farm to community farmers’ markets. Looking into the current GAPs and applying them to your farm can reduce the risks of foodborne sickness to your customers.

Here are a few preliminary questions for producers to address as they develop their farm’s produce safety plan:

Worker Hygiene

Best practices: All farmworkers must wash their hands appropriately before starting work, after using the toilet, and before and after eating

Best practices: According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA), toilet facilities must be available within ¼ mile of the harvesting areas. The portable toilet must be located away from the produce crop field and from product-handling areas. The bathroom should be monitored for good daily sanitation. They should have adequate supplies of toilet paper, soap in the dispensers, clean water, and single-use paper towels.

Best practices: Workers must wash their hands and change to new disposable gloves, particularly after eating, smoking, or using the restroom. They must not use non-disposable gloves when processing fruits and vegetables.

Production Practices

A farm irrigation system watering a field.

Best Practices: Irrigation water is from a municipal, treated water source or a groundwater well. The well must be in excellent condition, appropriately constructed, and well-capped. The well must be tested annually to make sure it meets FDA requirements.

Best Practices: Avoid plant wetting by using either drip irrigation or furrow irrigation.

Best Practices: Pesticides are applied according to label directions. Over-application of pesticides can be hazardous to the environment.

Best Practices: Avoid all spraying if the wind speed is greater than 10 miles per hour. Spraying should be postponed if heavy rain is in the forecast within 24 hours.

Best practices: Crops are inspected for pests during critical periods of crop and pest development. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices are followed. Pesticides are only applied when pest populations are enough to cause economic damage.

Best practices: Manure is applied and incorporated into the soil at least 120 days before the harvest of a product (unless composted first). No manure is used to side-dress produce crops in the field.

Best practices: No manure teas are used.

Best practices: Compost producers should keep temperature and aeration records to ensure compost is finished according to the guidelines stated in the question above.

Best practices: All records are maintained.

Post-Harvest Handling

Best practices: All harvest aids are washed, rinsed, and sanitized at the start of each work session, and after breaks as needed.

Best practices: Workers are trained to avoid harvesting bruised or dropped fruits and any product with evidence of animal or bird feces or feeding marks.

Best practices: New cardboard cartons are used for all packing for market. Previously used wooden or plastic bins are inspected and washed, rinsed and sanitized before each use.

Animal Management

Best practices: Wild animals are excluded (as much as possible) using fencing and other active deterrents. Old equipment and containers that attract wild animals are discarded. Excess water is eliminated. Weeds and brush are mowed.

Best practices: Pets, including farm animals, are never permitted in packing or produce marketing areas.

Best practices: All storage and packing areas should be inspected weekly for rodents, birds, and insects. Pest control procedures (traps, screening, and doors) should be used to exclude or remove the pests.


Best practices: Water for washing produce and making ice is from municipal or inspected well sources. Wash water is changed as needed. Chlorine or another disinfectant is added.

Best practices: Before loading produce into the truck, the vehicle is inspected for proper cleaning, sanitizing, odors, and debris.

A plate of chopped fruit with tooth picks inserted in the slices for patrons to sample.

Best practices: All utensils used for cutting samples, including the knives and cutting surface, are sanitized before use. Everyone preparing or serving samples is trained to wash their hands properly and to use clean, sanitized utensils. Clean disposable gloves are worn, so no bare hands contact samples.

Best practices: Single service utensils such as toothpicks or plastic utensils are provided for customers who choose to taste the samples.