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Oklahoma State University

Farm-to-fork food safety

Tue, October 11, 2016
Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources
Virgil Slagell (left) and Dennis Slagell, co-owners of Triple S Farms, visit with Jason Young, FAPC quality management specialist. Photo/Todd Johnson

One in six Americans will get sick this year due to improper food safety. While consumer mindfulness about food safety has grown throughout the past few decades, a newer, industry-driven initiative is helping address food safety from farm to fork. The Global Food Safety Initiative, or GFSI, is a product of a need identified by global retailers for improved food safety. It has changed the way food safety is conducted across the United Sates and in a global market, said Jason Young, quality management specialist for OSU’s Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center.

“GFSI is driven by industry needs, not governmental regulation,” Young said. “The focus is protecting the consumer and reducing the nationwide number of recalls. This distinction helped drive widespread acceptance across the industry.”

A demand exists for well-trained professionals to assist producers and processors with the growing emphasis on food safety. FAPC, a part of DASNR, recognized this need and provides services to meet the food safety and security needs of Oklahoma’s food industry.

Dale Beerwinkle, special projects coordinator with Triple S Farms, helped the company become GFSI certified by working with the Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center at Oklahoma State University. Photo/Todd Johnson

Young assisted more than 70 companies in the development and implementation of food safety plans within the past year.

“Providing continuous improvement in food safety management systems is the mission of GFSI,” Young said. “Greater consumer confidence in the delivery of safe food is key.”

GFSI recognizes a food safety management scheme when it meets minimum internationally identified food safety requirements and successfully completes a third-party audit.

“Preparing for a GFSI scheme audit can be a daunting process for producers and processors of any size,” Young said. “FAPC’s global food safety initiative program focuses on direct food industry assistance in the areas of training, auditing, pre-third- party audit preparations, education, and in-plant technical assistance for food safety and quality programs.”

Young worked closely with Triple S Farms of Hydro. Triple S doesn’t exclusively produce crops typically associated with western Oklahoma farms. Rather, it produces a highly diversified vegetable, fruit and commodity crop operation with sweet potatoes, watermelon, pumpkins and leafy greens, along with traditional wheat and cotton. This crop diversity allows Triple S Farms to market to a wide range of customers, each of whom may have different standards of food safety.

Triple S Farms produces highly diversified crops, including sweet potatoes, pumpkins and collard greens, among other fruits and vegetables. Photos/Todd Johnson

“Food safety is one of the top priorities of Triple S Farms,” said Blair Switzer, company office manager. “We want customers to feel good about buying our products.”

Selling to major distributors and being an integrated part of the supply chain, places greater restrictions and hurdles on Triple S Farms in terms of food safety. When looking to expand its customer base, the company learned about the GFSI certification process.

“We wanted to sell our products to Walmart, so we had to be GFSI certified,” said Virgil Slagell, co-owner of Triple S Farms.

Triple S Farms is passionate about making the entire process from farm-to- fork safer for its consumers. Through the meticulous record-keeping and third-party audits required by GFSI, as well as meetings with Young, Triple S Farms turned this passion into an overarching business goal.

In most cases, becoming GFSI certified does not cause producers to do anything they have not done in the past, Young said.

“It’s simply a checks and balances system to make sure producers are doing what they have said,” he said. “It provides documentation to the safety practices already occurring in an operation.”

Young assisted Triple S Farms in every aspect of becoming GFSI certified.

Triple S Farms produces highly diversified crops, including sweet potatoes, pumpkins and collard greens, among other fruits and vegetables. Photos/Todd Johnson

“We learned that in the audit world, if it is not written down, it didn’t happen,” said Dale Beerwinkle, special projects coordinator with Triple S Farms. “We always have been very cautious on what we spray, when we spray and where we spray, and now those records are in the traceable history of the crop.”

The GFSI process is challenging and time consuming, but that is where Young and his expertise have helped Oklahoma producers and food manufacturers. Companies and consumers expect this level of certification for food safety.

“We don’t ever want to ship a product that would hurt somebody,” Slagell said. “So by following guidelines, we feel more assured we are shipping a good product to our customers.”

The development of GFSI, combined with the support of DASNR and FAPC, has helped companies like Triple S Farms provide safer food to people in Oklahoma and beyond.

“The help we received from FAPC has made this possible,”said Dennis Slagell, co-owner of Triple S Farms. “I have always been a big supporter of OSU, and this is one of the reasons why. I see food safety becoming a priority for all agricultural producers in the years ahead. Jason has helped us implement a food safety culture, which will be necessary for the future of Triple S Farms.”

By Ashley Middleswarth

College News Network

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