FAQs including questions raised during the Version 2 Public Consultation

The FAQ’s have recently been updated to include some of the questions raised during the HARPS Version 2 Public Consultation period. We are still progressing through the feedback, please continue to check in over the coming weeks as the FAQ will be updated regularly. Answers that respond specifically to questions raised during the public consultation have been shaded in green.

What is HARPS?
HARPS stands for the Harmonised Australian Retailer Produce Scheme (HARPS). It is a world-first scheme, that harmonises all retailer-specific food safety, trade and legal requirements of each of Australia’s five major grocery retailers (ALDI, Coles, Woolworths, Costco and Metcash) as well as Hello Fresh and McDonald’s Australia, into one scheme that all these retailers accept – so, instead of having six individual food safety audits, there is only one.
How did HARPS begin?

In 2012 Horticulture Australia Ltd (now Hort Innovation) initiated a project to harmonise food safety certification requirements for the major retailers in Australia. The result of this project is the Harmonised Australian Retailer Produce Scheme (HARPS).

HARPS was an industry initiative. Industry approached Hort Innovation to ask for help in meeting multiple food safety schemes involved in supplying major retailers. Retailers agreed and were prepared to align their food safety requirements.

The initial HARPS project was funded by Horticulture Innovation Australia Ltd using across-industry levies and funds from the Australian Government. The scheme is voluntary and application for certification is open to all fresh produce businesses that supply the major grocery retailers. The project has been supported by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Australian Food and Grocery Council.

Over time, HARPS transitioned from being a project funded by Hort Innovation to a standalone entity, generating its own finances, in May 2020. 

Why was HARPS being introduced?

Australia’s five leading grocery retailers (ALDI, Coles, Costco, Metcash (IGA) and Woolworths) have had different food safety system requirements for their vendors. For suppliers to multiple retailers, this means numerous standards being audited, mostly but not necessarily concurrently. The need to implement, maintain and be audited to multiple systems that are largely similar, including bespoke additional requirements, is time consuming, stressful and expensive. Furthermore, the availability of auditors is under pressure as many auditors also find the process of auditing multiple systems to be stressful and complex. By having a single audit, to an approved scheme plus HARPS, to supply all retail customers, will lower the complexity of doing business, provide greater efficiencies in quality assurance and improve food safety outcomes across the entire fresh produce supply chain. It will also have positive outcomes for the certification sector such as greater auditor retention.

How is HARPS funded?
Contributions that support the ongoing management and development of HARPS are received from HARPS participating retailers, as well as certification bodies and auditors that are responsible for auditing HARPS. Operational contributions are also received from growers and suppliers that are audited ($245.00 + GST per audit) and collected on behalf of HARPS by certification bodies
When was HARPS launched?

HARPS was launched in Oct 2016 and the major retailers accepted HARPS audits as an alternative to their own specific standards from this date. 

As of January 2021, more than 1,400 suppliers are now HARPS approved.

Do I have to use HARPS?
HARPS is a voluntary scheme and is only for suppliers to the major grocery retailers (ALDI, Coles, Woolworths, Costco and Metcash) as well as Hello Fresh and McDonald’s Australia, – so, growers can still supply farmers markets, central markets and independent greengrocers without HARPS.
What does the harmonised standard look like, what’s in it?

The harmonised standard includes the elements that retailers had added over the years that were over and above the GFSI benchmark standard. For example, for Coles these elements were embedded in the Coles Supplier Requirements; for Woolworths, they were included in the Woolworths Quality Assurance Produce Standard. The Stakeholder Working Group members have agreed on wording that reduces well over 200 additional elements These are not new elements but a harmonisation of the wording of many existing elements that had similar meaning and intent.

Who owns HARPS?

Hort Innovation initiated a series of projects to develop a process for achieving harmonisation of food safety requirements of the major grocery retailers and an auditor competency scheme, resulting in the development of HARPS. The first project started in 2011.

HARPS is a program that Hort Innovation owns and includes:

  • the HARPS Database
  • HARPS branding including the HARPS Logo
  • HARPS Website content
  • HARPS standards, checklists, rules, assessments, checklists, protocols, matrixes
Who manages HARPS?

One Direction ANZ is the entity responsible for the ongoing management of HARPS. Following a competitive tender process run by Hort Innovation, a Management Agreement (Licence) was awarded to One Direction ANZ in May 2020 to manage HARPS. The Management Agreement details performance requirements to be met by One Direction ANZ on a six-monthly basis.

Who is the Stakeholder Working Group?
The Stakeholder Working Group, also known as the HARPS Retailer Committee, is made up of representatives from major grocery retailers (ALDI, Coles, Woolworths, Costco and Metcash) as well as Hello Fresh and McDonald’s Australia. The Retailer Committee was established in 2012 to guide the development of the HARPS program and is the final decision maker. Hort Innovation is a member of the HARPS Retailer Committee.
What does the transition from a Hort Innovation funded project to One Direction ANZ mean for HARPS?
The ownership of HARPS remains with Hort Innovation, One Direction ANZ are responsible for the day-to-day management of HARPS. This includes promoting HARPS within the horticulture and retail sectors, issuing Approval Certificates, and developing, maintaining, monitoring and enforcing policies and procedures for auditors and certification bodies. This includes organising and facilitating meetings and workshops with retailers through the Stakeholder Working Group and the HARPS Technical Advisory Group (H-TAG) which includes membership from across the horticultural supply chain including Peak Industry Bodies, certification bodies and growers.
What is the HARPS Technical Advisory Group (H-TAG)?

The HARPS Technical Advisory Group (H-TAG)  is responsible for guiding and contributing towards the ongoing development of the HARPS Standard and associated technical documents, such as the Interpretive Guidance Document and Scheme Rules. For further  information on our current membership by industry function click here.

What are the responsibilities and accountabilities of auditors?
HARPS conducts calibration sessions for existing auditors and training of new auditors to ensure accuracy of the HARPS elements during audits, although the responsibility of auditor training sits with the respective certification bodies. All new auditors to HARPS must be approved to audit one or more of the HARPS approved GFSI programs, successfully complete HARPS training together with a written examination, as well as undergo a witness audit by a HARPS-approved witness assessor.
Since release, how has HARPS contributed to improved food safety?

The approved GSFI standards go a long way to ensure the delivery of safe fresh produce, focusing on key food safety requirements, HARPS has been designed to enhance the rigour around specific food safety, trade and regulatory criteria that do not appear in the GFSI standards. Retailers identified specific issues that led to consumer complaints, rejections, withdrawals and recalls, which are a cost to suppliers and retailers. They are also the cause of consumer dissatisfaction and loss of consumer trust that can have long-lasting impacts. The additional level of prescription, above the GFSI schemes, include criteria such as foreign object management, control of weights and measures and protocols around the proper management of packaging and labelling.

Is there duplication with other standards such as Freshcare?
HARPS can be considered a bolt-on standard. It bolts on to GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) benchmark standards. These standards are a foundation for food safety and include Freshcare, GLOBAL.G.A.P., SQF and BRCGS. There is no expectation that a grower or supplier would need to duplicate any requirements that already exist within the GFSI standard(s) they have selected. Requirements have been included in HARPS if they are missing from one or more of these standards.
I am already certified to a base scheme, so why do I need HARPS?

HARPS has been designed to enhance the rigour around specific food safety, trade and regulatory criteria that do not appear in the GFSI base schemes. Retailers have never accepted the base schemes alone, and prior to HARPS, each retailer has their own requirements, as set out below:

  • Woolworths Quality Assured (WQA)
  • Coles Supplier Requirements (CSR)
  • ALDI Addendum
  • Costco Requirements

HARPS has harmonised the individual retailer requirements into a single standard that meets the requirements of all retailers.

This harmonised approach is unique to the fresh produce sector; all suppliers in other sectors across grocery and fresh foods, are still required to meet the retailers’ individual requirements, in addition to the GFSI base scheme(s).

Why is there a need for version 2 of HARPS?

HARPS 1.0 was launched in October 2016 and from this date retailers accepted HARPS audits as a replacement for their own specific requirements. The intention for HARPS 1.0   was to issue a standard to industry that could then be added to, so some sections, such as the section on Growing and the application of raw manure on product prior to harvest, were listed as TBC.

 HARPS 2.0 proposes criteria for these sections and proposes other learnings that have been gathered since the development of HARPS 1.0 (which was developed in 2015).

What's changed in the new standard (HARPS 2.0)?

In addition to the growing section on manures, HARPS 2.0 has proposed a section on Business Culture, that can be directly related to how much a grower or supplier supports and prioritises food safety in their business, and how employers can empower their staff to make smart decisions about food safety.

HARPS 2.0 proposes additional training requirements. Training is fundamental in assisting growers to understand what their trade and legal obligations are and how to meet these obligations.

HARPS 2.0 includes a guidance document to help with interpretation of HARPS and details if the requirement applies to a Tier 1 or 2 supplier (or both). This helps both suppliers and auditors in understanding what the expectations are more clearly and ensures accurate interpretation of HARPS elements.

Why was the public consultation period so short/over Christmas?

The development of the HARPS 2.0 standard started in July 2020. This involved a draft document being developed by an external third party following a competitive tender process, then the standard was reviewed by both the HARPS Technical Advisory Group and the HARPS retailers. It has taken five months to reach the final draft that has now been released for public consultation.

 The original period of consultation was from mid-December to mid-January, however, based on feedback this was extended to the end of January.

Industry consultation for HARPS 2.0 has just concluded. What process will HARPS follow now that feedback is submitted?

All feedback received is subject to review. The HARPS Management Team will work with the HARPS Technical Advisory Group to develop recommendations for changes that will then be reviewed by the HARPS Retailer Committee. The HARPS Retailer Committee will review all recommendations and provide a response. Discussion and negotiation will occur until an agreement is reached on the best approach to meet the desired outcomes.

Responses will be provided to industry and all parties that provided feedback, in the form of an extensive Q&A once the information has been reviewed and considered by the HARPS Technical Advisory Group and HARPS Retailer CommitteeThe Q&A will provide answers to all questions raised in the feedback.

The current communication channels (HARPS Helpline, email and website) will still be available for any additional queries.

When will HARPS 2.0 be released?

Due to the volume of feedback received through the public consultation process the original release date of March 2021 has now been deferred and is yet to be determined.

The HARPS Technical Advisory Group and HARPS Retailer Committee will review and respond to the submissions and formulate recommendations which consider the feedback received and address the concerns raised, whilst ensuring there is no compromise to the rigour of the HARPS standard and the delivery of safe fresh produce in Australia.

When HARPS 2.0 is released, will there be a transition period?

When HARPS 2.0 is released, there will be a 6-month transition period from HARPS 1.0 to HARPS 2.0. Suppliers will have a 6-month window to continue using HARPS 1.0.

Why has mandatory training been proposed in HARPS 2.0?

Training is proposed in the HARPS 2.0 standard because it is the best possible way to achieve a smooth transition from HARPS 1.0 to HARPS 2.0. When training is not mandatory it can lead to more corrective actions raised when the new standard is audited for the first time.

This is often due to a lack of understanding and incorrect interpretation of the standard by the producer. This can potentially disrupt the ability of a producer to supply their retailer customer(s), but it can lead to extended and more costly actions to then close out the corrective actions.

The mandatory requirement will be reconsidered as part of the review process.

Who are HARPS approved training providers?

HARPS will always control and manage the development of training content, with the ownership sitting with Hort Innovation, to ensure appropriate rigour and accuracy of all training material. Training will include face-to-face and online options.

Only HARPS approved training providers are permitted to deliver HARPS training, that is, HARPS have assessed the capability and competency of the training organisation and specific trainer(s) to ensure sufficient rigour and accuracy in the training content delivered. It is important that any HARPS training delivers the required learning objectives and suppliers are accurately informed.

To date, Quality Associates are the only HARPS approved training provider that have undergone a business assessment and witness assessment of training delivery as per the HARPS requirements. This opportunity is open to all training organisations and HARPS is in discussion with several training organisations.

Where contact details for HACCP training have been requested, the website details for multiple training providers have been shared. There is no single business that is a preferred provider.

How do I know which business/course is approved to conduct HACCP training?

Initial HACCP training must be conducted by a recognised industry training body that is RTO / TPECS certified (or an international equivalent). If in doubt about a providers credentials or approval to provide the appropriate training please contact the HARPS Helpline.

What products are in scope for HARPS?

The scope of HARPS includes the growing and packing of whole produce for retail sale. HARPS does not include processing or value-adding of produce. The product scope definition is aligned with Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) Industry Scopes B1 – Primary Production (Module 1) and D – Packing. Refer to the Decision Graphic

My business is based in New Zealand, I supply products to one or more of the HARPS Participating Retailers, is HARPS mandatory for my business?

HARPS is optional for New Zealand based suppliers. If suppliers choose to be approved to HARPS this must be in conjunction with one of the approved GFSI schemes.

I haven’t yet received my HARPS certificate, who can I contact?

The Certification Body that completed the HARPS audit is the only authorised business to issue the HARPS Certificate. Please contact them directly with any enquiries related to your HARPS Certificate.

 

What is a GFSI program?

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) has developed a benchmark standard for food safety certification that reflects global best practice in food safety management. Businesses are not certified against this standard. Existing food safety standards can be benchmarked against the GFSI standard. If a standard meets the GFSI benchmark it is regarded as being ‘GFSI equivalent’. This work is accomplished through collaboration between the world’s leading food safety experts from production, retail, manufacturing and food service companies, as well as international organisations, governments, academia and service providers to the global food industry.  GFSI is facilitated by The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), a global food industry network.

What are the acceptable “GFSI schemes”?

Which Certification Bodies can conduct HARPS audits?

Retailers ultimately decide who can and cannot perform audits of their suppliers. The HARPS Scheme Rules contains information regarding approved Certification Bodies in Appendix 2.

How long will my audit take?

As an indication only, your GFSI scheme plus HARPS audit should take no longer than a current audit to one retail customer. If you are currently certified to multiple schemes, there should be a corresponding reduction in audit time.

What will this do to the cost of my audits?

This depends on your current situation. If you are currently audited to multiple schemes for multiple customers, your audit duration will reduce, hence your audit costs will also reduce. By reducing the number of certifications, you may also reduce administration and other costs. If HARPS is an addition to your food safety auditing plan you will see an increase in costs associated with additional audit duration. This is to cover the cost of the HARPS elements. 

What about produce that is imported and sold on the domestic market?

Given the current landscape, whereby the overwhelming majority of produce is sourced domestically for retailers (approximately 96%), the Stakeholder Working Group have agreed that HARPS applies to domestic suppliers only. Imported produce is also subject to additional requirements set out by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture.

What if I export and my export customers want another scheme?

The Stakeholder Working Group retailers have deliberately chosen schemes that are equivalent to the Global Food Safety Initiative benchmark standard (or substantially progressed as for Freshcare). Growers and packers should remind export customers that, depending on scope, these schemes are equivalent to the global benchmark and that there is no food safety outcome advantage to be gained in implementing another scheme. Conversely, if an export customer insists on a particular scheme that is one of the schemes nominated by Australian retailers, speak to your retail customer/s to see if a switch will have any impact on supply arrangements.

My business is currently certified to Codex HACCP – what does this mean for me?

Certification to Codex HACCP is not acceptable for HARPS suppliers.

Are potted or sleeved herbs in scope?

Yes, both potted and sleeved herbs are in scope for HARPS.

Can I use brooms with wooden handles in my pack house?
Yes, and the same goes for other wooden handled tools, however, you need to ensure they are in good condition (i.e. intact with no signs of any pieces breaking off). The HARPS standard does not prohibit the use of wooden brooms or other cleaning or maintenance equipment including wooden parts. This requirement is a prevention mechanism and specifically designed to avoid foreign object contamination (a major source of complaint raised by consumers). The HARPS standard does require procedures to be in place ensuring wooden tools, field bins and pallets are regularly inspected to assess the condition and suitability for use and that damaged wooden items which present a risk to product are removed from use.
Why can’t I use paperclips, staples and other stationary in an office which is located within a packing shed?
Small items like staples, thumb tacks, and drawing pins represent a high risk if they become contaminants in fresh produce. HARPS requires your business to adequately demonstrate appropriate segregation and control of these items. Your business must demonstrate these controls through segregation and organisation so that there is no risk to product and to ensure users of these items are aware of their responsibility in preventing foreign object contamination. All staff and visitors should also be made aware of these procedures in relation to the use and control of these items. This could be done via signage or an induction/training process.
What training is acceptable to meet the requirements of Section 5.2 of the HARPS Standard?

To meet the requirements of Section 5.2 of the HARPS Standard which states “A representative of the organisation shall undertake refresher HACCP training at least every three years. Internal or external training providers may conduct refresher training as long as they are conducted by an RTO/TPECS training body or certified trainer. Evidence of trainer/training body qualification shall be provided. Refresher training may be conducted in a classroom environment or as an on-line course. Evidence of refresher training shall be maintained.” Both HACCP Refresher Training OR Freshcare Training OR HARPS Training (which includes a HACCP Refresher) are acceptable as long as they have been conducted within the last 3 years.

What is a ‘GFSI' Scheme?

A GFSI scheme is one that the HARPS Stakeholder Working Group has agreed will form the basis of Certification and supply to the retailers. A scheme must be a GFSI equivalent standard (*or provisionally accepted in the case of Freshcare, in recognition of substantial progress towards achieving GFSI equivalence).

How do I know which business/course is approved to conduct HACCP training?

Initial HACCP training must be conducted by a recognised industry training body that is RTO / TPECS certified (or an international equivalent). If in doubt about a providers credentials or approval to provide the appropriate training please contact the HARPS Helpline.