Ontario hydroponic spinach grower Jim Sheehan, owner of Durham Foods in Port Perry, has stepped away from farming temporarily to launch his newest venture, the GAP-App.
As of Feb. 1, any greenhouse or field operation that monitors its food safety through the CanadaGAP program can now do all its reporting electronically rather than plow through mountains of paperwork.
"At CanadaGAP's annual general meeting, 63% of participants said their No. 1 concern was the sheer volume of paperwork required," Sheehan said.
"It's not the organization's fault, it's just what needs to happen to stay GFSI-certified and make sure all the bases are covered," he said.
Sheehan came up with the idea out of necessity in his small operation.
"When we're running back and forth in a greenhouse the binders tend to get moist," he said, "and in the field they get dirty or we forget them. We thought, 'This is crazy!'"
Local colleges and universities jumped on board to help build the mobile and web-based application, the federal and provincial governments offered funding, "and before you knew it, we had a functioning app."
Durham Foods used it for a year, earning a premier's award for its efforts, before Sheehan decided to show it to CanadaGAP and expand it to all members.
"We reproduced the manuals exactly," he said, "so if something happens in the greenhouse or in the field you can record it right away without having to go back and get a binder or remember to do it."
The app is intuitive and inclusive, he said. Anybody in the food chain can create an incident report, which is forwarded automatically to the company's food safety designate.
Everything entered is tracked by date and time, he said, so nothing can be faked.
"When it comes to audits, you choose the date range you need and the app generates the whole audit checklist for you. Every single form and incident is there and it shows everything you've done so there's no more running around looking for paper."
Sheehan has hired local software programmers to manage and maintain the app.
"It might not sound sleek and sexy, but from someone who's suffered through it, trust me, it's pretty cool," he said.
For more information, visit gapapp.ca.