The United States Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture jointly published the "Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables," which is used as a basis for Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audits. To understand barriers to incorporation of GAP by Minnesota vegetable farmers, a mail survey completed in 2008 was validated with visits to a subset of the farms. This was done to determine the extent to which actual practices matched perceived practices. Two hundred forty-six producers completed the mail survey, and 27 participated in the on-farm survey. Over 75% of the on-farm survey respondents produced vegetables on 10 acres or less and had 10 or fewer employees. Of 14 questions, excellent agreement between on-farm interviews and mail survey responses was observed on two questions, four questions had poor or slight agreement, and eight questions had no agreement. Ninety-two percent of respondents by mail said "they took measures to keep animals and pests out of packing and storage buildings." However, with the on-site visit only 45% met this requirement. Similarly, 81% of respondents by mail said "measures were taken to reduce the risk of wild and/or domestic animals entering into fruit and vegetable growing areas." With direct observation, 70% of farms actually had taken measures to keep animals out of the growing areas. Additional, on-farm assessments were done regarding employee hygiene, training, presence of animals, water sources, and composting practices. This validation study demonstrated the challenge of creating nonleading and concise questions that are not open to broad interpretation from the respondents. If mail surveys are used to assess GAP, they should include open-ended questions and ranking systems to better assess farm practices. To provide the most accurate survey data for educational purposes or GAP audits, on-farm visits are recommended.
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Copyright 2015, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.