Annual septic system inspections help ensure a passing food safety audit

A properly working sewage treatment system on the farm is critical to preventing contamination in the fields adjacent to it and essential in passing a food safety audit.

Food safety auditors want to know and see that all sewage systems near your production area are not failing. These include septic systems and the storage for any portable toilets you may have near the production area. This is visually inspected for by the auditor, making it important that you know what the auditor will find before the audit takes place.

It is important to know where all septic systems and leach fields are in relation to the production areas. These should be listed and mapped in your food safety manual. Each septic system doesn’t need to be checked on a regular basis, but at least once a year prior to the audit is recommended. Septic systems require regular pumping to work effectively. You may wish to keep pumping records such as pumping receipts in a separate folder, but handy during the audit in case the auditor asks for them.

Signs of a failing septic system include bands of variable growth in the vegetation over the leach field, seepage on the ground and, ultimately, sewage backing up into the residence. Keep these in mind as you perform a visual inspection prior to the auditor’s arrival.

Just as septic systems need regular pumping, so do the portable toilets near the production area. If you contract with a company for pumping services, make sure they have logged when the portable toilets are serviced, or maintain receipts of servicing from the company to show the auditor. If you service the toilet yourself, keep a log of when you do it and be prepared to explain what you do with the effluent. In general, it is recommended to dispose of the effluent in non-production areas or a landfill.

If you have specific questions about septic system inspection or have difficulty tailoring Good Agriculture Practices (GAPs) to your farm, contact the Michigan State University Extension Agrifood Safety Work Group at or 517-788-4292. To obtain more information on septic systems for GAP purposes, ask for guidance document AFSM034-01.

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