Are you ready for emergencies? The reasons to start building food safety and recall programs

Green Mountain Girls' veggies! Source: eatstayfarm.com

Green Mountain Girls’ veggies! Source: eatstayfarm.com

By Omar Oyarzybal, UVM Extension Food Safety Faculty

What would you do if a customer tells you that your food product made her/his sick? What would you say to a state or federal agent that calls you to tell you that human pathogens have been found in your food products? If you have prepared, or start preparing, a food safety plan and a recall plan or program, you will be better off to respond in case these emergencies arise.

Developing and implementing a food safety plan for your food product, whichever product it may be, can be quite challenging. First there are no guarantees that a food safety program will completely render your foods free of human pathogens. But a solid food safety program will expose the critical areas during processing that need to be closely monitored.

The first step is make sure you understand if there are state and federal the food safety regulations that apply to your products. Please send us an email (omar.oyarzabal@uvm.edu) if you have any question related to food safety regulations for your products. It is also important to understand which human pathogens have been traditionally associated with your foods. For instance, we know that Salmonella is commonly found in raw meat and poultry products and vibrios, a group of bacteria found in costal, warm waters, are associated to the consumption of raw oysters (http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/09/emerging-pathogens-vibrio-cases-in-oysters-expected-to-continue-rising/#.VGJkPMk-X8c). But there are other instances where the prediction of the pathogen that may appear in a food product is not easy, even for microbiology professionals working in food safety. Recent examples of these new food-pathogen combinations are Salmonella in peanut butter (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/salmonella-poisoning-peanut-butter/) and Listeria in cantaloupes. The latter example unfortunately resulted in the deadliest foodborne disease outbreak in the US in nearly 90 years (http://www.cdc.gov/24-7/SavingLives/listeria/).

Another important program is a recall program. Basically this program helps you walk through the actions to take in case your food is involved in a recall of any sort. Being involved in a recall is a stressful situation and you need to have a “plan of action” to understand the resources needed to react on time to protect the branding, or the reputation, of your foods. This program also helps you understand how recall are implemented and who are the local contacts that can help you in these emergency situations. In addition, practicing mock recalls is also important to keep your program and resources fresh and ready.

In summary, the reasons to have a food safety program and a recall program are quite compelling if you want to protect the reputation of your products in case of emergencies. You can not completely reduce the chances of being in emergency situations, but at least you can be prepared for those stressful circumstances. Finally, a recall program and a food safety plan is indispensable in these days to sell your foods in federal commerce.

Please send us an email (omar.oyarzabal@uvm.edu) with your comments or questions about this article or other areas of food safety.

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‘Building Sustainable Farms, Ranches and Communities,’ new book from USDA-SARE

by Dennis Kauppila, UVM Extension

Here’s a new edition of the book, ‘Building Sustainable Farms, Ranches and Communities: A guide to federal programs for sustainable agriculture, forestry, entrepreneurship, conservation, food systems, and community development.’

building sust farm ranch comm book image CompressedIt was just updated in October, 2014, to include programs from the 2014 Farm Bill. The press release tells us:

‘The 86-page guide covers 63 government programs…Each listing provides a description of the program’s available resources, information on how to apply…Additionally, the guide includes basic information on how to design sound projects, find appropriate programs and write grant applications.’

Here’s the link to the Guide, published by USDA’s SARE program, Sustainable Ag Research and Education. Download the book as a free pdf file.

Building Sustainable Farms, Ranches and Communities, USDA -SARE

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Are You Staying True to Your Goals?

Take time to set goals and revisit them.

Take time to set goals and revisit them.

Sam Smith, Farm Business Specialist at the Intervale Center in Burlington, VT

Just before Thanksgiving every year I get a flurry of calls from farmers ready to start the business planning process. They have brought in or sold their crops and are starting to think about next year. One of the first topics we cover when sitting down to start the planning process is farm and personal goals.

While planning is usually focused on the financial goals for the farm business, I also recommend developing or reviewing non-financial goals. Financial goals are very important, but I find that they sometimes overshadow other farm or personal goals. Farmers need money to stay in business, but the actions they take to meet their financial goals often take them farther away from their other goals.

An example of this would be a vegetable farmer who identifies the financial goal of growing her business to a larger scale to make more money. While that goal makes financial sense, she may end up managing a crew of farm workers and making sales calls instead of doing the field work she really want to be doing.

Having clarity around non-financial goals can help identify the desired future state, which can be aligned with financial goals. Chances are you got in to farming for a variety of reasons, but being clear in those reasons will help you from going down a path that takes you away from them.

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The Deodorant- Tractor Scale

Slide1

Michael Porter discusses two basic approaches a business can make its way in the world. The first is to be a high volume/low cost commodity provider; the second is to sell differentiated products, those with one or more attributes that help them stand out in the marketplace and hopefully garner a price premium. Economists sometimes refer to these as being price takers and price makers, respectively.

We see this clearly in agriculture. Many farmers, those who tend to operate on larger scales, produce milk, corn, wheat or other basic commodities which are pooled with those of other producers and sold. Little or not information of how, where or by whom it was grown travels along to end consumers. Indeed, these products are largely homogeneous and interchangeable. No one producer influences the price, they simply sell at the going rate. These producers do very little if any marketing; marketing is done by others, much farther down the supply chain. They gain only a small amount per unit sold and must sell a lot to make a living.

At the other end of the spectrum, many farmers create value by differentiating themselves, offering products with information on where, who and how: local, organic, free range, fair trade, etc. This information needs to be communicated somehow: by promotional material, labels, displays, newsletters, websites, social media, etc. They make money both on production and marketing, capturing both premiums and a larger share of the food dollar.

I made the graphic above as part of a presentation I am doing; I found it both amusing and hopefully instructive. A farmer may choose where they wish to be on that scale – their position in the market place in a sense – by what they like to do and do best. Are they good at/like selling, communicating, interacting  with people-implying a need to wear deodorant? Or are they good at and just want  to produce, drive the tractor and take care of plants and animals, and leave the marketing to a few phone calls if anything?

I must admit I stole this idea from Chris Fullerton, formerly of Tuscarora Organic Growers and PASA, from a talk many years back. Credit to him, and if anyone knows where he is, say hello and thanks.

Written by: David Conner
Department of Community Development and Applied Economics
University of Vermont

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Are You Collecting Sales Tax?

On September 21 the Times Argus printed an article called “Farmers, Vendors Face Back Sales Tax” It is important to understand that there are times when farms are exempt from sales tax and there are times when a farm is required to collect or pay sales taxes. This applies to the sale of farm products and in the case of the Time Argus article it applies to the purchase of equipment. Getting a bill or penalty to pay back taxes is not likely in your budget, so let’s avoid any surprises.

Farmers selling products direct to end users on-farm or at farmers markets must understand which exemptions do or don’t apply to them. Click this link to a fact sheet from NOFA VT, page 4 describes tax regulations related to farmers market sales.

http://nofavt.org/sites/default/files/Regulations%20for%20FM%20Vendors.pdf

Prepared Foods, Crafts (ie Wool), Beverages are generally taxable. In certain states, edible flowers are not taxable but cut flowers/ornamentals (dried corn/gourds) are taxable. Consult your state department of taxes to determine if any of your “non-food” products are taxable (lumber, christmas trees, nursery plants, dried flowers ?)

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