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A New Food Safety Framework for ValleyHUB

ValleyHUB is developing a new framework for scale and product-appropriate food safety.

A New Food Safety Framework for ValleyHUB

Food Safety is Important to Us!

 

One aspect of operating a food hub is ensuring and promoting the safety of the food passing through our facility. Our primary audience of institutional buyers includes schools and hospitals, two high-risk populations that need the utmost assurance that their food will safely nourish those in their care.

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The Challenge

For our farmers, a lot goes into making this assurance and they do a great job! Navigating the food safety landscape is often confusing, time-consuming, and costly. Luckily there are some resources like MSU Extension’s Produce Safety Road Map and USDA’s new cost-share assistance for on-farm food safety expenses to aid in these efforts.

According to this report from the Michigan Farm to Institution Network, a written food safety plan and USDA GAP certification are the two most common methods that food service personnel use to verify food safety practices. Currently, ValleyHUB farmers are required to have a written farm food safety plan and allow us to visit their operation.

Some institutions have specific requirements for what level of food safety they require. Others are left to set their own standards for food safety, so most go to what they know or hear tossed around a lot, GAP Certification. While it is necessary for farms of larger scales to get GAP certified, the annual costs for obtaining that certification often do not make sense for smaller operations, even if they are adhering to all of the standards laid out by the USDA. So how do we take the guesswork out for our buyers and promise that no matter which of our food supplier partners they buy from, that their food is safe?

Our Goal: An Approved Supplier Program

As ValleyHUB seeks to grow exponentially over the next few seasons, we need a program in place to ensure scale and product-appropriate food safety practices and certification processes are being implemented by our producer partners. While we do not want to cast more burden on our farm partners, we want to provide a framework to sell to our institutional partners. Most importantly, a framework that both parties have helped develop and find acceptable.

How We’ll Do It

With support from our 2021 Local Food Promotion Program grant, we will develop a Food Safety Assurance Program for our hub, modeled after the New Mexico Grown approved supplier program, which can serve as a pilot for other hubs or a Michigan-wide effort.

We will still offer help with USDA GAP certification through the Michigan Group GAP Network and also develop and offer a portfolio of training options: individual consulting with farm owners, group training for farm staff, and open workshops. We will use resources and curricula developed by program partners when possible and publish ValleyHUB’s Standard Operating Procedures and other documents as a tool for other practitioners.

Your Initial Thoughts

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During our ValleyHUB Summit we introduced this idea to 72 of our partners in attendance, asked for their input, and they told us! This summary of the input session includes feedback on what excites them, what challenges they foresee, and what resources we can put in place to make this program as seamless as possible. We were glad to hear our partners’ excitement about the opportunity to open doors for more sales. We can understand their hesitations that this program may cause them to invest more time in training and completing paperwork. We also hear their concern for ensuring that both our buyer and supplier partners are fully bought into this program and that it will in fact lead to more local food transactions. We accept and look forward to rising to this challenge!

What to Expect Next

With your input in mind, we will begin fleshing out more details for this program. We want to continue getting your input to guide this process. Watch our website (or if you’re a partner - your email) for more updates and opportunities to engage in this development process. At next year’s ValleyHUB Summit, we will roll out the framework, along with resources to support our partners throughout the program.

 


February 02, 2023
By: Crystal Van Pelt, Food Systems Education Program Manager
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