Trevor Suslow, an Extension postharvest pathology specialist at the University of California, Davis, detailed how growers can establish GAPs for their operations in a presentation during the 33rd Annual Almond Industry Conference in Modesto, California.

In response to recalls of contaminated almonds in 2001 and 2004, the Almond Board of California adopted in 2004 a voluntary action plan for growers, hullers and shellers, and handlers to reduce microbial contamination from bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli.

The board anticipates a mandatory monitoring program in 2006 after the industry completes research and procedures, including steps for pasteurization of raw, unprocessed almonds. Jacobs said the program will not become mandatory until the industry has the capacity to comply with the regulations.

In pointing the way to adopt GAPs, Suslow said they extend beyond microbial issues to address an array of chemical and physical contaminants, along with allergens and toxins.

The ABC has identified four major areas of concern for on-farm contamination for almond growers:

First, contamination of water used for irrigation or foliar sprays can be avoided by growers identifying sources such as unsafe water routes, shared water pipelines or canals, and seasonal effects on the supply.

Second, manure used as fertilizer should be adequately composted, even though ABC does not recommend the use of manure. The orchard floor should be considered "a food contact surface" and growers should only apply properly composed manure after harvest and before January 1. Manure should not be applied during the growing season. Store manure away from the orchard and place physical barriers to prevent runoff into water sources, the orchard, or other areas where contamination could occur. Clean all equipment used in handling manure and incorporate the material into the soil when it is applied.

Third, droppings from domestic and wild animals, including birds and rodents, which can be spread in irrigation water or by human activity, are a source of contamination. Pets should be kept out of orchards and an effective rodent management program should be implemented.

The fourth source of contamination is poor human hygiene caused by inadequate toilet and hand washing facilities. Toilets should be placed within one-quarter-mile of the orchard work area. Place toilets to minimize risk of contamination of the orchard, equipment, irrigation water, or any other area that could lead to contamination.