Friday, July 24, 2015

HVF's "Culture of Cleanliness"

By Farmers Richard & Andrea
Color-Coded Brushes: Red is for cleaning equipment and green
is for cleaning harvest totes and trays.
Earlier this spring we had our annual visit from our Food Safety Inspector, Dr, Kolb.  For over 10 years we’ve chosen to do a third-party, voluntary food safety audit of our farm.  When the inspector comes, he checks out all areas of our operation from the packing shed to the field and everything in between.  He looks at equipment, storage facilities, tractors, records, etc.  He actually starts his inspection before he ever pulls in our driveway!  As he approaches our farm he looks at the roadsides scouting out trash and debris.  Seriously, are we responsible for the roadsides too?  Yes!  Any area near or surrounding our farm is important to our “Culture of Cleanliness,” a term we adopted from Dr. Kolb’s food safety jargon.  We want every person who visits our farm to have a positive “first impression” that leaves you thinking “Wow!  What a clean, organized farm!”
When we first started down this road many years ago, food safety on farms was not as much at the forefront as it is now.  Many smaller farms still don’t have a food safety program in place and are scrambling to pull it all together given more recent legislation and increased regulation regarding food safety at the farm level.  While the requirements of this legislation are still being determined, it’s inevitable that the requirements will only continue to become greater.  One of the biggest complaints from farmers is the time and money they need to invest to implement a food safety program.  Yes, it is an investment of both time and money.  We have two crew members who spend several hours per week doing pest control monitoring around the farm.  We also take time to put up fencing in vulnerable field areas to exclude critters such as deer & raccoons from crop areas.  Every month we do environmental lab tests which cost not only time, but also the cost of the lab analysis.  Every day we invest time in properly cleaning and sanitizing wash lines and equipment.  These are just a few of the expenses we incur to support our program.  Nonetheless, we feel it is important to be aware of food safety issues and stay well ahead of the curve.  Many of our wholesale accounts now require documentation of our food safety program in addition to organic certification.  But the value of our interest in food safety goes beyond satisfying a buyer’s request.  With each visit from our inspector we learn new things and are challenged to make improvements to procedures, facilities, machinery, etc.
Moises is preparing the wash tank at the beginning of the day
 (notice the red bucket we use only for cleaning).
Over the years Dr. Kolb has taught us to see our operation through a different set of eyes.  Over the course of time we have developed what we referred to previously as the “Culture of Cleanliness.”  This mentality extends to all areas of the farm.  Everyone on the farm, regardless of position, shares a responsibility in upholding the policies we have in place as well as helping us continue to identify areas for improvement.  We are proud of the progress we have made over the past 8-10 years that has led to a more organized, clean farm that we are all proud of!
We don’t just think about food safety once a year when the inspector is coming.  No, we think about it every day.  We take our job of providing you and your families with safe food very seriously.  Color-coded brushes, red buckets, orange buckets, white buckets, stainless-steel equipment, food-safe grease, clean equipment bearings, yellow-handled harvest knives, tractor-diapers and general good hand-washing….these are just a few parts of our day-to-day work lives that are directly related to food-safety.  We have many SOPs (standard operating procedures) in place and more yet to develop.  Every year we set aside time to do annual training to remind every crew member about the SOPs and build upon previous knowledge.

Our food safety program will likely never be “finished.”  It will always be a work in progress as we make continuous improvements and build upon our current program from year to year to ensure we’re always moving forward.  This past year we invested in some pricey stainless steel packing shed equipment that was greatly needed.  We also implemented a new procedure for knife control.  Upon Dr. Kolb’s recommendations, we’ll be putting together a HACCP plan over the next year and further developing some of the details of our traceback program.  While traceback has been part of organic inspection for many years, we’re starting to see an even greater emphasis on being able to trace back a vegetable not only to the field in which it was grown and harvested in, but also down to the exact lot of seed and every input and operation the crop went through over the course of its growing season!
Pedro and Catarino utilizing designated painted totes as
temporary tables for their work station.
Despite the time, energy and resources a good food safety program requires, we feel that this is one area that is well worth the investment.  We are not scrambling to comply with regulations and feel that our farm is much better overall because of our food safety program.  This year we earned an 100% rating score on our audit and a huge compliment from Dr. Kolb. When he sent his report and our certificate, he stated ‘I was absolutely serious when I said Harmony Valley Farm is a “Model Facility”  - it is at the top of its game and very few in the produce industry can hold a candle to what you have done.’

1 comment:

farmerchef said...

Impressive as always, Richard

Deb Deacon
Wisconsin Farmers Market Association