New tool helps food service evaluate on-farm food safety practices

April 16, 2021
Fresh green beans.

Institutional buyers of fresh, whole produce need assurances that growers followed safe food handling practices during production, harvest and delivery. These buyers may include the food service staff at schools, hospitals, care facilities and others.

The US Food and Drug Administration offers guidelines for farmers to follow, known as Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). But third-party verification of GAP is uncommon in Iowa. One reason: not all produce growers in Iowa are large enough to require compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule. Another barrier is cost; many produce farms in Iowa choose not to become GAP-certified or certified organic, even though they may follow those practices.

Checklist helps document food safety

Publication cover.

The Checklist for Retail Purchasing of Local Produce from ISU Extension and Outreach helps document food safety practices on produce farms.

“Both farmers and food service buyers use the checklist to guide decisions on food safety,” said Teresa Wiemerslage, extension field specialist.

“Food service directors are well-versed on food safety in the kitchen,” she noted. “But they aren’t always confident in how food safety plays out on the farm.

“Food service directors who use the checklist often ask: ‘How do I know if the answers are right?’”

Companion tool now available

First page of slide show.

Wiemerslage recently developed a new tool as a companion to the Checklist for Retail Purchasing of Local Produce. This tool walks through each question on the checklist and identifies areas of concern, or red flags.

“By using this tool, food service directors should be able to quickly evaluate the farm’s answers on the checklist,” said Wiemerslage.

If red flags arise, the food service director can ask the farmer for more information. They also can ask to visit the farm or turn to the ISU Extension Food Safety Team for more information.

Download the free tool: Evaluating the Retail Checklist: A Guide for Food Service Buyers.

For more information, contact Wiemerslage at 563-794-0599 or