Friday, August 8, 2008

Safety First

This week's newsletter:
Guess who came to lunch? by Andrea
We always extend an invitation to any guest at the farm to join us for lunch…even the sanitation inspector! Last week we had our annual sanitation inspection and received a Superior rating! We take pride in the vegetables we grow, from keeping clean weeded fields to washing off field dirt to reveal the beautiful colors of the vegetables in your CSA box and eventually on your table. With the recent food warnings and recalls including salmonella on jalapeños and tomatoes, and e.coli on spinach, being aware of food handling procedures is very important to ensuring you have a clean and safe food supply.

Our goal is to grow tasty, nutritious vegetables, but we also don’t want to overlook the importance of our handling practices in making sure you and your family can enjoy our vegetables with confidence.Last year we earned our GAP/GHP (Good Agriculture Practices/Good Handling Practices) certification, a voluntary food safety certification. We were encouraged to pursue this certification by Whole Foods Market, one of our major wholesale buyers. While obtaining the certification is additional work for us, we have encouraged other growers to go through the process. Why? Because as part of this program employees are required to wear very stylish blue or green bouffant caps (like Cullen sports in these photos). No, the real reason is that knowledge gives you the power to prevent potentially dangerous situations before they occur. We have learned to see our farm, from field to packing shed to shop, with a new set of eyes. The inspector we work with is from the American Food Safety Institute International. We spent seven hours going over the farm with a fine toothed comb and here are just a few of the highlights.

With threats of rain hanging overhead, we decided to check out the fields first. The inspector had seen our fields last year, but we have acquired some new farmland this year and he wanted to look at it. As we cruised onto the property, his eyes scanned the landscape looking for trash, brush piles, and traces of animal activity. We encourage biodiversity in our fields as part of our organic farming practices. We know we can’t keep out every bird, deer, raccoon, etc, and in fact we put bird houses near the fields to encourage their presence. However, we do need to manage the wildlife and animal activity in and around the fields. We keep trash picked up and remove large brush piles from the fields since these make nice homes for some critters. Our crew is trained to look for signs of animal presence; specifically we are concerned with scat (aka feces or doody). If they spot an area that is contaminated, they will flag it to prevent harvest of that product.

After looking at the fields, we went back and went through the packing shed. We have learned that food safety and sanitation encompasses aspects ranging from personnel practices to facilities management, pest control, as well as written procedures, documentation, training and accountability. With all of these aspects in the back of our minds, we looked at nearly every surface, inside and out. He was looking for signs of pests (mice, insects, spiders, etc), microbial growth (mold, mildew and bacteria), and any structural problems that might create a food safety related problem.

After looking at all of the greenhouses, storage areas, the packing areas and the shop, we went back to the office to review what he had seen. While most people get nervous when an inspector is coming, I learned that he is not to be feared. He was very helpful and spent time showing us other resources that will help guide us as we refine our cleaning schedules, log books, pest control program, personnel training program and updating our employee manual.

Eating locally gives you an advantage you don’t have when you buy products sourced from large farms all around the world. It’s hard to go check out your farmer’s field in China or Mexico (that is if you can ever figure out who the farmer is), but it is possible to visit your farmer who is about 2-3 hours from your home. We are located in an isolated valley and our farm and fields are not located near any large feedlots that could contaminate our fields with run-off, wind drift or transfer of contaminates via animals. Still, we choose to practice the Precautionary Principle and do what we can to prevent any possibilities of contamination. Unfortunately, the world and its organisms are not the same as they were 50-100 years ago. Modern industrial farming practices, large feed lots, grain fed animals and overuse of antibiotics have resulted in dangerous bacteria we didn’t worry about previously. Even if we think we are safe from direct contact, we still must practice due diligence since these bacteria can be transferred via birds, vehicles or other means of cross-contamination. We acknowledge that we don’t live in a sterile environment (shit happens), but we do what we can to educate and train ourselves and our employees so we can send vegetables to you with peace of mind. We encourage you to handle your produce properly once it makes it into your hands as well. Aside from ready-to-eat, bagged greens (salad mix, sauté mix, arugula), you should wash your vegetables before eating them. Take care to avoid cross-contamination with meats and other potentially hazardous foods when preparing your vegetables.

Next time you are in the area, we hope you’ll stop in and check us out. Be sure to remove your jewelry (a food safety hazard in the packing shed) and I’d recommend wearing something that will go with the green or blue bouffant cap we will ask you to wear in the packing shed area. We hope you will continue to enjoy the vegetables we grow for many years to come. We will continue to do what we can to better ourselves and offer you the highest level of consumer confidence in our product that we can achieve. If you’ll excuse me now….time to check the cooler temps.

No comments: