by Olivia Wong, Fullei Fresh C.E.O.
What we eat can hurt or harm us. Eat less processed foods they say. Eat more veggies. Eat pre and probiotics. Go for gut health and immunity boosting foods. As if we weren't inundated enough with health messages, now we also need to know where our food comes from.
As farmers, we know that not all food is equal and not always is "healthy" food good for you. Recent years have seen incredible numbers of foodborne illnesses and outbreaks. Remember the issues with cantaloupes, spinach, and the multiple cases of lettuce? We are not saying to stay away from them, but rather to educate yourselves on how produce is grown, harvested, packed and handled. Learn about the process from the time seeds are planted to the time the food makes it to your plate. Most importantly, let farmers (as well as retailers and restaurateurs) know that you expect them to follow strict food safety practices by voicing your opinion and voting with your wallet.
Now before you get stressed out about it, let me tell you how you can rest easy. The United States' Food and Drug Administration oversees the adherence to the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in 2011. This Act was created to safeguard consumers by regulating how food is grown, harvested and packed or processed. It holds food producers accountable.
Sprout growers are held to an even higher standard. The FDA recognized past issues with sprout outbreaks and worked diligently to create The Sprout Safety Alliance which developed The Produce Safety Rule's Subpart M, which is specific to sprouts. The SSA is comprised of scientists, industry leaders and sprout growers including Fullei Fresh's owner. Every sprout farm must have a staff member certified by the SSA. We have 3. The course is no easy feat as the manual is over 400 pages long and covers sprout operations from A to Z.
Food safety is of such importance for us at Fullei Fresh that we exceed requirements. Here are just some examples of what we do:
1. Walls have curved edges so that bacteria cannot harbor in the crevices.
2. Floors are sloped so that water does not pool and instead flows into drains.
3. Hoses and extension cords are hung from the ceiling so as not to drape on the floor (even though the floors are cleaned and sanitized daily.)
4. Tools including harvesting tools, brushes, brooms and squeegees are color coded by department and use. They are cleaned and sanitized daily and hung. Tools used for food contact surfaces are never used for doors, walls or floors. This prevents cross contamination.
5. All production areas are cleaned at the beginning and end of the day, including food contact surfaces, walls, doors and floors. Sanitizer is applied at the end of the day. All other areas and equipment are deep cleaned according to a schedule.
6. Production areas have built in footbaths which are puddles of sanitizer so that all carts, pallet jacks and shoes who pass through are sanitized before entering.
7. We have our own in house 4 step water purification systems and send samples to a lab for coliform testing.
8. Seeds are certified to be free of pathogens. Then they are further sanitized prior to planting.
9. Every lot and batch is tested for e.coli and salmonella prior to shipping.
10. ATP and listeria testing are also conducted regularly.
11. There is full traceability from seed receiving to packing to shipping.
There are many more things we do routinely, including an incredible amount of record-keeping and logging. Also due to Covid-19, we have implemented additional sanitation of frequently touched surfaces such as door handles and carts, added plastic dividers, hand sanitizer, face masks and shields. Food safety is something we never compromise because your wellbeing matters.
It can seem overwhelming to those not in the industry. My advice to you: ask questions. Just because something is marketed as "locally grown" or "all natural" or "pesticide free" does not necessarily mean it is safe to eat. Do they have good farmer hygiene and sufficient and well equipped sanitation stations? Does the farm have certified food safety managers on site at all times? Does the farm have a HACCP plan and follow GMPs? Are they third party audited? If yes, what level audit do they have? When was the most recent audit completed and what was their score? We can proudly say we scored a 98 out of 100 on the Primus GFS audit completed this month. This level audit is not common for sprout growers as it is more intense than the norm.
With Covid bringing cleanliness and sanitation to the forefront of everyone's minds, it is a no brainer that we ask those questions. I would want to know where my food comes from. Don't you?