Food safety challenges in the Midwest

Midwest produce suppliers know the more you go into cut products, the greater concern for food safety.

As Ron Carkoski, CEO of New Harvest Foods, a newly created merger of H. Brooks and Company BB #:100563 and J & J Distributing Company that is headquartered in Minneapolis, indicates, “If you cut your skin, you have the opportunity for bacteria to come in.”

Jeff Cummins, director of public affairs for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, too points out, “Processing foods of any kind can introduce a new element of risk. It’s critical to have the right training and procedures in place to minimize that risk as much as possible. We’re proud of our growers and processors for what they do in that regard.”

Bill Dietz, president of Heartland Produce Company in Kenosha, WI, BB #:133466 agrees.

There’s “more risk in the fresh-cut; there’s no doubt. Fresh cut facilities are doing everything they possibly can to ensure that they’re following food safety protocols. Some retailers do it in-store,” but he notes, there is “more risk” that way.

Then there’s the Produce Rule of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

“The FSMA Produce Rule has been a major factor for the industry for the last few years,” Cummins said. “The complexities of the rule mean we have to work closely with growers as often as we can to assist with training and compliance. The FDA, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, and other food safety regulatory bodies have the ‘educate before and while you regulate’ approach to the implementation of this rule.”

Many in the industry, of course, have responded proactively to these new measures.

Cummins goes on to say, “Compliance may require some changes of some growers; however, many that sell to major retailers may already meet standards higher than FSMA.”

Sam Maglio, president of Maglio Companies, headquartered in Glendale, WI, BB #:105281 describes the approach his company has taken: “Our food safety team has been preparing for FSMA for five years. To that end, they have developed an app which automates the collection of data (human automation) as well and ensures compliance (locks out equipment if the protocols are not adhered to). We call it Safety Flow and are in the process of pilot testing with firms both in the produce industry and in other regulated food channels.”

For juicing operations, Maglio notes that the issue “is obtaining the FDA-mandate 5-log reduction in pathogens while maintaining the fresh qualities of the juice.” (A 5-log reduction means a 100,000-fold reduction in the number of pathogens.) “The advent of high pressure processing (HPP) has allowed cold-pressed juice to stay cold (no thermal processing/pasteurization). Maglio is fully invested and operational in the HPP space through our Safety Fresh Foods division.”

This is a multi-part spotlight feature on Midwest produce adapted from the October 2019 issue of Produce Blueprints.

Richard Smoley, editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published eleven books.