by Courtney Llewellyn
“Why value-add?” asked Amanda Kinchla, associate Extension professor in the Food Science Department at UMass-Amherst during this spring’s virtual Harvest New England. She answered her own query: “There are lots of different benefits – consumers appreciate the extra help. For producers, it helps extend season production, it reduces waste (from surplus or non-wholesale produce), it increases revenue – margins can go up exponentially – and it introduces new markets.”
But how do you go from field to shelf? Kinchla said the game changes depending on the food –and “as soon as I cut open a product, it goes into the processed world,” she said.
First, you need to know the legal regulations. There are differences between retail and wholesale. Retail products are restricted to sales directly to consumers and are inspected and licensed by your local Board of Health. This will likely be sales to a small portion of the public. Wholesale products are sold to wholesalers, retailers and industrial or business purchasers – much larger sales. Wholesale operations may sell their products to retail stores, restaurants, etc., and are usually inspected and licensed by a state program as well as two federal regulating bodies: USDA (generally meat and eggs) and FDA (everything else).
After determining how much you’re selling, you have to consider your kitchen. A retail residential kitchen can only prepare “cottage food products.” These are non-potentially hazardous items, such as baked goods, jams, jellies, vinegar – things that can be safely held at room temperature. (These vary by state.) A wholesale residential kitchen may produce foods that can be safely held at room temperature and foods that do not require refrigeration. Neither may prepare finished products that require hot or cold holding for safety.
To ensure you’re not endangering your customers, preventive controls should be followed. They are procedures you implement to reduce or remove hazards found in your food product at your facility. The preventive controls Kinchla highlighted were allergen controls (using labels that articulate any known allergens in product and thorough cleaning regimes); sanitation controls (higher scrutiny of your sanitation programs); and supply chain controls (establishing a system to use approved suppliers for safe products that you can’t control at your operation). FSMA helps ensure controls like these are in place.
“Every food has risks, but ‘knowing is half the battle,’” Kinchla said of creating a food safety plans. These require a hazard analysis, preventive controls (including a recall plan – detailed recordkeeping is crucial for this) and procedures for monitoring, corrective action and verification. She said it’s also useful to have a facility overview, a food safety team and product and process descriptions.
She listed six steps in creating a hazard analysis:
- List ingredients/processing steps
- Identify potential food safety hazards
- Determine if the hazard requires a preventive control
- Justify your decisions
- Identify preventive controls for a significant hazard
- Double check preventive controls have been implemented
The FDA offers Good Manufacturing Practices (21 CFR Part 117) to make sure your value-added products are being prepared properly. These include guidelines on sanitary operations and facilities, equipment and utensils, processes and controls and more.
Think you’re ready to expand your operations to included value-added goods but want some guidance? Kinchla said there are consultants, auditors, process authorities, university specialists, government agencies, trade associations, suppliers, buyers and lab analysts who can help you create a food safety plan (including Kinchla, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org). She also noted there are new product development resources at ag.umass.edu/food-science/resources.
“Remember, hazards are okay – you just have to understand what they are and how to control them,” she concluded. “And remember your plan is dynamic. Things constantly change.”