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Tag: Food safety

Navigating CEA Food Safety: Candid Q&A With Ceres Certifications, International President

Join us for a candid conversation with Dr. Karl Kolb, President of Ceres Certifications, International, and Ceres University, as he sheds light on the essentials of food safety in controlled environment agriculture (CEA). Ahead of his CEA Food Safety Workshop at the March 2024 edition of Indoor Ag-Con, Dr. Kolb delves into the practical aspects of GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) standards, addressing common misconceptions. From understanding the risk-based approach in CEA to incorporating technology into safety measures, this Q&A provides straightforward insights. Dr. Kolb also offers pragmatic advice on how CEA operators can balance sustainability with the need for robust food safety.

How does the application of GFSI standards benefit controlled environment agriculture (CEA) operations, and what specific challenges or considerations should CEA operators be aware of when seeking food safety certification for their facilities?

Let me start by saying GFSI food safety standards are largely misunderstood across the entire food industry.  From their development, what they represent and how they are applied. It may sound unusual but if the owners and operators of food operations understood them, they would place them as their top priority in their daily schedule.  The leaders would not go home at night nor would any of their employees until every item in their food safety plan was checked, doublechecked and rechecked.

Food Safety Certification and GFSI StandardsThere are so many unique ways a GFSI or any “certificated” (non-GFSI) food safety standard benefits the operator. Defining “Operator” is anyone directly involved in any aspect of the food operation. From those who sell inputs such as seed, to those who plant the seed, those who irrigate, control watering, clean and sanitize, pull maintenance, process or pack, sell and ship the finished product — they are all operators.

Literally the information on food safety programs and their attributes would fill the Library of Congress.  And the quality systems that are used to apply the “standard” as we say, would fill a second Library of Congress.  Let me be clear, the application of a GFSI or food safety standard is the same across the board, to any food safety operation, CEA or the larger food industry. That statement scares CEA operators. CEA operators, like organic growers or small farmers, spend their life differentiating themselves from their counterparts.  Each one, and rightfully so believes and feels in their heart that they are uniquely different and performing the most important service to the public.  I cannot disagree with any of this because each operator is doing a phenomenal service to the largely unknowing public.

CEA operators should not fear the application of the GFSI standard. If, and that is a big if to be discussed later, it is applied correctly the CEA operator would intuitively know how greatly it benefits them. In short, each standard in a food safety scheme (Schemes are GFSI programs such as SQF, PGFS and HACCP to name a few.) is based on one of three or all three tenants; science, regulatory codes, and industry norms.  While there are variations of the GFSI schemes to accommodate the differences in some farming activities such as greenhouse farming by example, largely all food safety schemes inherently possess the same core requirements.  It’s how they are applied that makes the difference in each different operation.

Are there specialized considerations for food safety in CEA that may differ from traditional agriculture, and if so, how can operators navigate these nuances?

Herein is the one of my favorite topics about the application of the standard.  It is risk based.  In other words, each standard is applied the same but differently, based on a risk analysis. No matter what part of the food industry the operation is working in, the standard is the same.  This fact alone is one of the particular strengths of the GFSI system. The “specialized considerations” mentioned in your question are invoked at the time the auditor asks the question from the standard. Navigating these nuances as you stated are not what most people believe – for sure it’s not fancy footwork during an audit or attractive paperwork.  By example, I write some of the most boring, grammatically incorrect, ugly looking programs and policies, reports and logs ever.  Pretty and poetic is great but it doesn’t necessarily mean there is a meaningful robust program, “under the hood”, so to speak.

CEA Food SafetyThe “navigation” begins at the beginning (There is a song by Artie Shaw with a similar name referring to a dance or relationship from the 1920s that may have some carryover when applying the standard?) and thrives throughout the program and over time. It is the analysis of the particular “clause” in a food safety standard – this analysis begins with a complete understanding of what the clause is asking specifically and how it is intended to be applied.  Remember I spoke earlier about how a standard or clause is built? Science, regulatory and industry norms? A short explanation of Risk Analysis is in order to understand the next piece.  A risk analysis is a process which entails identifying risk, defining uncertainty, completing analysis models and implementing solutions.

Now I must back up a bit.  Life is about backing up and moving forward.  Just like learning from an audit.  The risk analysis is where the CEA operator differs from the larger industry and even his co-operators down the street. There is a yin and yang relationship between the auditor and the operator.  The auditor applies a process involving the standard or clause.  The auditor understands the standard and clause. He looks to the operator as the expert on the ground to explain how the operator applied the principles of risk analysis to the standard and what the operator’s solution or program properly answers the clause.

I’m sure by now the questions of how CEA differs from the larger industry and its fellow brethren are becoming clear.

Two absolutes must be respected in this dance (somehow credit Artie) or the yin and yang relationship.  1) The auditor must know his job and understand his or her role in the audit, 2) The operator must know his or her job of performing a risk analysis and explaining it to the auditor. That is the strength and difference CEA operators are looking for in GFSI audits.  However, finding #1 and #2 is like finding “hen’s teeth”. So sadly, audits become a checklist affair,  almost worthless and get a bad rap.

As a leader of a food safety certifying body, you’ve likely encountered various compliance issues.  What are some common misconceptions or overlooked aspects related to food safety that you believe CEA operators should be more aware of to improve the safety of their produce?

Not sure if I’m a leader but more of a learner or supporter.  We are largely a body of awesome women who I absolutely (adore) believe are the strength of this organization.  I have chosen smart, educated, dedicated and loyal women who don’t need to be told what to do or how to do it.

Our challenge is many-fold. It involves resources.  Time, money, training, staff needs and lastly, but first, compliance.

cEA Food safety 3My academic background is about quality.  Quality is defined properly, partially by the ISO system and my experience, “Quality standards are sets of good manufacturing practices (“Best Practices”), methods, systems, requirements, and or specifications established by science, regulators and industry to help operators achieve and demonstrate consistent production and product qualities.” Do not confuse quality with quality.  We are not talking about quality like the organoleptic head of lettuce qualities, although quality systems do define this commodity standard.  Quality is all about consistency.

A great and successful example is McDonalds.  Sadly, my default menu on too many occasions. They grew fast and successfully by using a quality model. The bros McDonald correctly set their goal as fast, good, cheap and consistent burgers across the land.  It’s not that the burgers are the best ever (sorry bros however the fish sandwich is the best) but everything from the sandwich itself to the service is consistently the same.  Go anywhere and the McDonalds experience is not 100% every time, listen well, it’s the same experience every time. Manufacturing excellence is achieved through consistency. And to those who are manufacturers we know that it’s not 100% that is achieved every time but the 90% mark is where quality is achieved.

Compliance at the operator level is all about consistency.  A food safety program cannot run at 100%, but it can run properly at 90% and achieve science, regulatory and industry expectations. The challenge of both myself as a certification body and that of the operator is keeping up and applying the science, regulations and industry expectations in auditors and operators as they work though (think root cause analysis) risk analysis solutions.

The audit is not meant to be a checklist drill but the yin and yang of auditor and operator.

As technology continues to play a significant role in CEA, how do advancements in automation and data-driven systems impact food safety protocols, and what advice do you have for growers looking to integrate these technologies while maintaining a strong food safety program?

Automation should serve the food safety program, not drive, define or prescribe it.  I once asked a very wise and experienced individual with a very large certifying body how he conducted audits. This gentleman told me he would take a blank yellow pad and walk into a food plant and begin asking questions.  He had infinite knowledge of the standard. He went and asked questions until he got the answers that rang true.  This is the ultimate in determining the robustness of a food safety program. I’m sure the yellow pad had a lot to do with it too.

As I taught in the classroom, you define automation, don’t let it define you.  All too often we fall for the “sizzle” of what these systems are said to do and we find out the sizzle is not from a tenderloin but a burger. (My apologies to the bros McDonald.)

With the growing importance of sustainability in agriculture,  how can CEA operators balance the use of sustainable practices with the need for rigorous food safety measures.  Are there specific certifications or guidelines they should consider?  

CEA food safety 5As you can tell by now, my perspective on food safety is different from anything else – I learned as a manufacturing engineer that when things don’t work as they should (different from the standard) you go back to the basics and start over – in this case, the basics of quality.

I started this interview by saying GFSI food safety standards are largely misunderstood across the entire food industry. Here again, I must separate the norm from what I believe is important. We as an industry do not understand quality systems and their concepts or requirements.

Sustainability is all about quality systems.  Quality systems are not a point in time like an audit. Nor is sustainability.  The question is, “How do we sustain quality?” Sustainability has become defined as a social construct. Wrong. Sustainability is doing the same thing consistently and improving time after time for a sustained period of time. Not more or new twists of the standard.

I have tried in this interview to impress your readers that the GFSI system must be embraced in a quality fashion.  As a process and not in a one-time checklist inspection.  While we gloat that GFSI is the best food safety system in the world and the US leads the way, we all drank the kool-aid.

We have been lucky as a nation illness-wise, to date.  As the demand for food increases what we do now, what we call food safety of trying to pass a once-a-year chaotic intervention (annual audit) of our operations, is not sustainable.

A good friend (Bob Wright) sums it this way, “Does it make the food any safer?”

Thanks for listening and apologies to anyone offended, especially the bros McDonald.

 

Karl Kolb, Ph.D., is the founder and President of the High Sierra Group companies, which services more than 10,000 customers with Ceres Certifications, International (ISO 17065 food safety certifying body), HSG/AME Certified Laboratories (17025 food testing laboratories), Ceres University (Accredited, degree granting), High Sierra Chemicals and Epicure Farms.

 

 

Unlock the Secrets To A Safer, Higher Quality Harvest With March 2024 CEA Food Safety Workshop  Registration Fee Includes
Expo Floor Access & Up To 3 CEUs

LEARN MORE & REGISTER TODAY!

Internal auditing certification is a mandatory GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) requirement that demonstrates an individual’s ability to conduct internal assessments of any food safety program.  Indoor Ag-Con has partnered with Ceres University, a leading provider of IACET-accredited food safety training and certification, to offer a cost-effective, convenient way to build your career AND help fulfill GFSI scheme requirements. Workshop fee includes:

  • Admission to 4-hour workshop and course materials
  • Ability to earn up to 3 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) upon completion
  • Indoor Ag-Con Expo Hall Only Pass, which includes access to Expo Floor March 11-12, 2024;  admission to all Indoor Ag-Con Expo Theater presentations; Expo Floor Welcome Happy Hour; and access to expo floor of National Grocers Association (NGA) Show running concurrently at Caesars Forum.

LEARN MORE & REGISTER TODAY!

 

Navigating Food Safety through Internal Auditing in Controlled Environment Agriculture

Indoor Ag-Con will host a CEA Food Safety Pre-Event Workshop in conjunction with Ceres University on March 10, 2024, the day before the March 11-12, 2024 edition opens at Caesars Forum in Las Vegas. Leading up to this session, this column explores key issues and actionable improvements you can implement for your food safety and food quality processes. This month, Dr. Karl Kolb, President of Ceres University and Ceres Certifications, International, shares insights into the invaluable internal audit process.

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“At its simplest, internal auditing involves identifying the risks that could keep an organization from achieving its goals, making sure the leaders know about these risks and proactively recommending improvements to reduce these risks.”1

This statement says it all.  The function of internal review, auditing,  inspection or assessment is to assess risks and ensure they are eliminated, controlled, or mitigated. In the food industry we may not be able to eliminate all risks but we can control them or mitigate the effects of a known hazard.

All GFSI audits desire qualification in three things, HACCP, PCQI and Internal Auditing. Every QA team needs at least one person qualified in one of these three subjects. Given the type of factory, other qualifications may be necessary but Internal Auditing will always be the top of the “need to have” list.

There are two questions that seem to rise to the top of the list when this topic is discussed. “What to inspect?” and “How to inspect?”

But before we dive into these two questions let’s discuss to whom the Internal Audit team reports to in the factory.

In all ISO systems and GFSI is another name for ISO, information such as the data and recommendations from audits must go directly to the highest level of management.  This way the decision makers have unfiltered information into those risks that have the potential to harm the organization.

So, what to inspect?

For any plant the HACCP program and its CCPs and supporting CPs are at the top of the inspection list. This is where major harm to the product is caught and hopefully eliminated or at least mitigated. This is the last step in the food safety process yet the most important one. From my analysis, HACCP is the least knowledgeable of all the things in a food safety program by auditors and practitioners alike.  The more time spent understanding how a HACCP functions and the science behind it the better. As HACCP is a capstone requirement in a food safety program built only after prerequisite programs are developed, the HACCP will point the way to deficiencies in the factory.
Other important high-risk items are GMPs, manufacturing controls such as calibrations, environmental testing, reporting and the ever-fabled corrective actions to external and internal audits. Don’t leave out training as we don’t do enough of that day to day.

So, how to inspect? 

There are lots of ways.  Most folks like myself dread the interview.  You ask probing questions of familiar associates (meaning friends) and find out information which may be damaging to their status within the plant.  That is hard, no two ways about it.  We all need to sharpen our interviewing skills and be strong.
But there are other techniques just as important as interviewing which will lead us to answers about the health of our factory. These include reviewing the HACCP program to ensure it is written and executed properly, observations of GMPs and SOPs to ensure they are being followed, review of reports to determine if they are correct, root cause, corrective and preventative actions and how well they are dealing with an audit issue. Internal auditing is not just reviewing pre-requisite programs. It’s the Clouseau of investigations, following your intuition.

See you at the Indoor Ag Con show!  Sign up for the course and become a Certified Internal Auditor.

Footnote: 1. Auditboard.com

 

Dr. Karl Kolb

 

Karl Kolb, Ph.D., is the founder and President of the High Sierra Group companies, which services more than 10,000 customers with Ceres Certifications, International (ISO 17065 food safety certifying body), HSG/AME Certified Laboratories (17025 food testing laboratories), Ceres University (Accredited, degree granting), High Sierra Chemicals and Epicure Farms.

 

LEARN MORE & JOIN US FOR THE CEA FOOD SAFETY PRE-EVENT WORKSHOP

CEA Food Safety Spotlight: The Benefits Of An Internal Review Audit

Indoor Ag-Con will host a CEA Food Safety Pre-Event Workshop in conjunction with Ceres University on March 10, 2024. Looking ahead to this session, we’ve launched a monthly column to explore key issues and actionable improvements you can implement for your food safety and food quality processes.  This month, Dr. Karl Kolb, President, Ceres University and Ceres Certifications, International, shares how  the  value of an Internal Review audit is priceless to a food organization that works hard to ensure food safety, quality, authenticity, nutrition, food fraud and security programs enforce a rigorous GFSI program.

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Virtually every GFSI food safety scheme from PGFS to SQF require the staff to be qualified in Internal Review skills.  Internal Review has become a required certification for those in quality assurance or compliance areas. All GFSI schemes require at least one certified individual in the company. And the internal review team is also trained in these same skills. The skill set of the qualified person is no more than what is required by a HACCP and PCQI qualification.

An internal review audit is a comprehensive evaluation conducted by qualified individuals to assess an organization’s adherence to food safety standards, regulatory requirements, and industry best practices.  It involves a systematic review of processes, procedures and documentation.

Internal review goes by many names.  Internal Audit, Internal Review, Self-Inspection or Audit or a title that indicates a review of internal programs to determine their effectiveness.

An Internal Review is comprised of the following major tenants:

  • In this step an internal auditor or audit team must identify a clear objective of the food safety audit process. For a GFSI scheme this can involve critical prerequisite programs, HACCP, GMP’s or other important processes in the company organization.  These internal audits are spread over the 12 months or 4 quarters of the audit year. Many times, the food safety scheme indicates preferred subjects like HACCP, GMPs or food fraud programs.
  • What is the plan for completing the audits?
  • How are corrective actions and preventative actions taking place?
  • Verification of results.
  • Audit evaluation.

There are many simple techniques to help make the process less arduous. Interviews, KPI analysis, review of written programs or records and observations.  While the audit does cover every part of the food safety program, the manner in which it is approached, conducted and evaluated does not need to be hard to perform.  There are many ways to conduct a meaningful audit.  Start slow and focus on only the critical items building each year to achieve a complete and meaningful program.

How ever the internal audit is approached it is vital to the company’s commitment to food safety.

Karl Kolb, Ph.D., is the founder and President of the High Sierra Group companies, which services more than 10,000 customers with Ceres Certifications, International (ISO 17065 food safety certifying body), HSG/AME Certified Laboratories (17025 food testing laboratories), Ceres University (Accredited, degree granting), High Sierra Chemicals and Epicure Farms.

 

 

 

Learn more about the Indoor Ag-Con 2024 CEA Food Safety Workshop!

Food Safety Spotlight | Pseudomonas in CEA Grows: Challenges and Solutions

Indoor Ag-Con will host a CEA Food Safety Pre-Event Workshop in conjunction with Ceres University on March 10, 2024. Looking ahead to this session, we’ve launched a monthly column to explore  key issues and actionable improvements you can implement for your food safety and food quality processes.  This month, the experts at AME Certified PCR Laboratories take a deep dive into Pseudomonas pathogens, addressing the problems they can cause for CEA crops and potential solutions.
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Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) is a technology-based approach to produce high-quality, nutritious, and fresh food in a sustainable and efficient manner. CEA systems include greenhouses, vertical farms, hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics, among others. CEA offers many advantages over conventional agriculture, such as reduced water and land use, increased crop yield and quality, reduced pesticide and fertilizer use, and year-round production. However, CEA also faces some serious challenges, such as high energy and capital costs, complex management and operation, and potential biosecurity risks. One of the major biosecurity risks in CEA is the occurrence of plant diseases caused by various pathogens, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and nematodes. Among these pathogens, Pseudomonas spp. are particularly problematic for CEA crops.

Pseudomonas spp. are ubiquitous gram-negative bacteria that can colonize various environments, including soil, water, plants, animals, and humans. Some Pseudomonas spp. are beneficial for plant growth and health, such as Pseudomonas fluorescens and Pseudomonas putida, which can produce plant growth-promoting substances, solubilize minerals, antagonize pathogens, and induce systemic resistance in plants. However, some Pseudomonas spp. are pathogenic for plants, causing diseases such as leaf spots, blights, wilts, rots, cankers, galls, and vascular disorders. Some of the most notorious plant pathogenic Pseudomonas spp. are Pseudomonas syringae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Pseudomonas cichorii, Pseudomonas viridiflava, and Pseudomonas corrugata. These pathogens can infect a wide range of CEA crops, such as lettuce, tomato, cucumber, pepper, eggplant, basil, mint, rosemary, and lavender.

Pseudomonas spp. can cause significant losses in CEA systems due to their high virulence, wide host range, rapid multiplication, diverse survival strategies, and resistance to antibiotics and disinfectants. Pseudomonas spp. can enter CEA systems through various sources, such as contaminated seeds, planting materials, irrigation water, tools, equipment, workers’ hands and clothes, insects and other vectors. Once inside the CEA system, Pseudomonas spp. can spread quickly through the recirculating water or nutrient solution, the humid and warm air, the plant-to-plant contact, or the mechanical damage caused by pruning or harvesting. Pseudomonas spp. can also persist in the CEA system for long periods of time by forming biofilms on surfaces, producing extracellular polysaccharides that protect them from desiccation and disinfection, or entering a dormant state that allows them to survive unfavorable conditions.

The management of Pseudomonas diseases in CEA systems is challenging due to the limited availability of effective control measures. The use of resistant or tolerant cultivars is not always feasible or sufficient, as Pseudomonas spp. can overcome host resistance by mutating or acquiring new virulent factors. The use of chemical pesticides is not desirable or permitted in CEA systems, as they can pose health and environmental risks, reduce crop quality and marketability, and select for resistant strains of Pseudomonas. The use of biological control agents (BCAs), such as beneficial bacteria or fungi that can antagonize or suppress Pseudomonas, is promising but not consistent or reliable, as BCAs can be affected by environmental factors, interactions with other microorganisms, or interference from the host plant. Therefore, there is a need for alternative or complementary control measures that can effectively prevent or reduce Pseudomonas diseases in CEA systems.

One of the potential solutions for managing Pseudomonas diseases in CEA systems is the use of an in-house qRT-PCR testing laboratory. In house laboratory systems deliver in-house testing systems to food production facilities featuring qRT-PCR (DNA), GCMS (gas chromatography-mass spectrometry), and NGS (next-generation sequencing) testing systems. qRT-PCR is a molecular technique that can detect and quantify small amounts of DNA in a sample by amplifying specific target sequences using primers and probes. qRT-PCR is recognized as the most accurate form of testing for food and human disease identification because it is highly sensitive and specific and can detect small amounts of DNA in a sample. qRT-PCR testing works by amplifying small amounts of DNA in a sample, making it easier to detect and identify. This makes it ideal for identifying the source of food contamination, as well as identifying the source of a human disease.

The benefits of using an in-house qRT-PCR testing laboratory for managing Pseudomonas diseases in CEA systems are manifold. First, it can provide fast and actionable data that can help the CEA facility to prevent or reduce Pseudomonas contamination and infection by implementing timely and appropriate control measures. Second, it can reduce the cost and time of testing by eliminating the need to send samples to external laboratories and wait for the results. Third, it can improve the quality and safety of the CEA products by ensuring that they are free from Pseudomonas and other pathogens and meet the regulatory and market standards. Fourth, it can enhance the reputation and credibility of the CEA facility by demonstrating its commitment to food safety and quality assurance.

Pseudomonas spp. are serious threats to CEA systems that can cause significant losses in crop yield and quality. The management of Pseudomonas diseases in CEA systems is challenging due to the limited availability of effective control measures. One of the potential solutions for managing Pseudomonas diseases in CEA systems is the use of an in-house qRT-PCR testing laboratory. PCR based laboratories provides in-house testing systems that can rapidly and accurately identify Pseudomonas spp. and other pathogens in the CEA system and provide fast and actionable data that can help the CEA facility to prevent or reduce Pseudomonas contamination and infection by implementing timely and appropriate control measures.

About AME Certified PCR Laboratories AME

AME Certified PCR Laboratories delivers in-house testing systems to food production facilities featuring qRT-PCR(DNA), GCMS, and NGS testing systems.  Learn more at https://hsg-ame.com/

CEA Food Safety Summit
Click images above to learn more about Pre-Event Workshop.

References

Albright, L. D. (2019). Controlled environment agriculture: past, present, future. Agronomy, 9(12), 777.

Hwang, S. H., Park, M., Lee, J., & Lee, J. H. (2015). Pseudomonas aeruginosa as an opportunistic pathogen on plants: how are they recognized?. Journal of microbiology (Seoul, Korea), 53(4), 207.

Kupferschmied, P., Maurhofer, M., & Keel, C. (2013). Promise for plant pest control: root-associated pseudomonads with insecticidal activities. Frontiers in plant science, 4, 287.

Mittelberger, C., Obkircher, L., Oberkofler, V., Ianeselli, A., Kerschbamer, C., Gallmetzer, A., … & Janik, K. (2020). Development of a universal endogenous qPCR control for eukaryotic DNA samples. Plant methods, 16(1), 1-11.

Song, Y., Wang, Y., Guo, D., & Jing, L. (2019). Selection of reference genes for quantitative real-time PCR normalization in the plant pathogen Puccinia helianthi Schw. BMC plant biology, 19(1), 1-12.

Indoor Ag-Con Announces New CEA Food Safety 2024 Pre-Event Workshop

Leading Vertical Farming | CEA Trade Show Partners With Ceres University To Host ‘Internal Review’ Class The Day Before Indoor Ag-Con 2024 Opens In Las Vegas

Indoor Ag-Con, the largest trade show and conference for vertical farming and controlled environment agriculture(CEA), has partnered with Ceres University, a leading provider of ICET-accredited food safety training and certification, to host a CEA Food Safety Workshop ahead of the March 11-12, 2024 edition of Indoor Ag-Con at Caesars Forum, Las Vegas. Scheduled for Sunday, March 10, 2024 from 1-5 pm, the “Internal Review Class” is designed to help industry professionals build their careers and prepare to meet the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) requirement for internal auditing certification.

Internal audit certification is a mandatory requirement of the GFSI as it demonstrates an individual’s ability to conduct internal assessments of any food safety program.  By developing and maintaining a robust and effective internal audit system, operations can enhance their food safety and food quality processes through actionable improvements. This CEA Food Safety Workshop will provide valuable insights into best practices and common mistakes to avoid for successful programs, as outlined by a GFSI level professor in Food Science.

“We are thrilled to add this important CEA Food Safety Workshop to our growing line-up of educational offerings,” said Brian Sullivan, CEO of Indoor Ag-Con. “Food safety is of paramount importance in today’s rapidly evolving CEA industry, and our collaboration with Ceres University underscores our dedication to arming our attendees with the necessary skills to meet global standards.”

“Partnering with Indoor Ag-Con to host the CEA Food Safety Workshop is an exciting opportunity for Ceres University,” adds Karl Kolb, Ph.D., President, Ceres University. “Our aim is to empower professionals in the CEA industry with the knowledge and skills required to achieve and maintain the highest food safety standards. This workshop will provide attendees with proven tools and insights needed to enhance their internal audit processes and drive continuous improvement in their operations.”

The registration fee for the workshop is $575 which includes:

  • Admission to 4-hour workshop and course materials
  • Ability to earn up to 3 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) upon completion  
  • Indoor Ag-Con Expo Hall Only Pass, which includes access to Expo Floor March 11-12, 2024; admission to all Indoor Ag-Con Expo Theater presentations; Expo Floor Welcome Happy Hour; and access to expo floor of National Grocers Association (NGA) Show running concurrently at Caesars Forum.

The workshop is designed for anyone in the CEA industry dedicated to ensuring the highest standards of food safety and quality, including food safety managers, quality assurance professionals, compliance officers, and executives with a vested interest in protecting their brand’s reputation.  

CEA summit instructorsWorkshop instructors include Dr. Karl Kolb, president of Ceres University and Ceres Certifications, International (CCI) and Kellie Worrell, GlobalG.A.P. Scheme Manager, CCI.  Dr. Kolb is a  microbiologist with a quality background and more than 30 years as an industry professional. In addition to her current role with CCI, Kellie Worrell has managed the Food Safety Program for multiple vegetable farms, including a wide variety of crops. CCI features GLOBALG.A.P. among its many GFSI food safety schemes.

During the workshop attendees will learn how to organize an internal auditing program;  master risk-based approaches; educate and empower teams to become food safety advocates; effectively document findings; conduct an interview; uncover root cases, and more.

For more information and registration details for the CEA Food Safety Workshop, visit: www.indoor.ag/ceafoodsafety.

About Indoor Ag-Con

Indoor Ag-Con is the premier global event series focused on the future of indoor farming. Since 2013, the trade show and conference, the industry’s largest, has been at the forefront of the rapidly expanding vertical farming and controlled environment agriculture sector, providing a platform for industry leaders, innovators, and researchers to connect, share knowledge, and drive the industry forward. More information – www.indoor.ag

About Ceres University:

Ceres University is a leading provider of ICET-accredited food safety training and certification. With a mission to enhance food safety and quality through education, Ceres University equips professionals in the food industry with the knowledge and skills necessary to excel in their careers and ensure the highest standards of safety and quality. More information – www.ceres.university

Food Safety: Make the Most of Your Self-Assessment

No matter what type of food safety program your operation has, a self-assessment is an important component. All GFSI-benchmarked standards (such as GLOBALG.A.P., PrimusGFS, SQF, and BRC) require a self-assessment to be performed at least annually.

Do not look at the self-assessment as “another thing to be done”, but as an opportunity to give your entire food safety program a vital review. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your self-assessment.

  1. Team up. The more eyes you have looking at your processes during a self-assessment, the more you will see. Just like it is almost impossible to effectively proof-read your own writing (because you’ll aways see what you meant to say instead of what is actually written), it can be very hard to assess your own food safety program. At least one person on the team should be the trained expert, likely the Food Safety Manager, but the rest of the team can vary quite a bit. It is good to have people with “boots on the ground” involved, since they can tell you if the policy matches the practice. However, completely fresh eyes, from say, someone in administration, may prompt questions you have been overlooking or failed to consider. And the team doesn’t have to be the same for all aspects of the self-assessment—no need to keep a warehouse manager tied up for field-harvest portions of the self-assessment, for example.
  2. Be sure to conduct the self-assessment while relevant activities are taking place. Really watch what happens in daily activities to ensure that your policy is aligned with actual practices. You may need to conduct certain portions of the self-assessment at different times of the day or even different times of the year. Be sure that your self-assessment is conducted before your audit, and, vitally, far enough in advance to sufficiently address any non-conformances you identify.
  3. As you conduct your self-assessment, be sure to focus on the process not the product. For example, a bin of apples may look great, but did you witness the process of harvesting this bin of apples to make sure all food safety risks were mitigated to the best extent possible? Even better than observing a good result (such as the nice bin of apples) is a chance to observe what is done when something goes wrong—how do the workers react, are they trained in what to do, did the process work to catch the problem?
  4. Document, document, document. As we say in food safety, if it isn’t documented it didn’t happen! In a self-assessment especially, documentation is vital (and required by most schemes). Go by the standard point-by-point and document evidence that each requirement is being met. Non-conformances MUST be well-documented. Be sure to document who is responsible for each required corrective action, and the timeframe within which it is to be completed. And of course, FOLLOW UP! Make sure the corrective actions effectively addressed the non-conformances that were found.
  5. Communicate to Management. A self-assessment that never leaves the food safety office does not have nearly the power of a self-assessment whose results are communicated to management. Although it may not be pleasant, management really does want to know where operational improvements can be made. Every operation can develop blind spots, but an effective self-assessment can identify and correct these. Additionally, it is far better to learn of these opportunities from an internal self-assessment (and it’s corresponding corrective actions) than from a third-party auditor where consequences can be greater. Some of the non-conformances identified by the food safety self-assessment may be indicative of broader issues across the operation.

Conducted correctly, a self-assessment can be the most powerful component of a food safety plan. This “check-up from the neck up” can get you in great shape for your audit and, more importantly, bring meaningful improvements to your operation.

About Kellie Worrell
Kellie Worrell has an extensive background in Agriculture and Food Safety. She has written several accurate ag children’s books, including the Virginia Ag In the Classroom Book of the Year. She has served as Food Safety Officers for farms with a wide variety of fresh vegetables, and is currently the GLOBALG.A.P. Scheme Manager at Ceres Certifications, International (CCI). CCI offers a wide range of food safety certifications. For more information visit ceresci.com.

 

About Ceres Certifications, International
Ceres Certifications, International (CCI) has been serving the produce industry since 2021. CCI offers a wide variety of 3rd party food safety certifications, including both GFSI-benchmarked standards and more basic audits. Connect with its experienced Scheme Managers to discuss the extensive CCI offerings, including GLOBALG.A.P. IFA, HPSS, PHA, localg.a.p., a variety of GG add-ons, PrimusGFS, PrimusStandard, SQF, and more. Learn more.

 

What Type of Food Safety Audit Do You Need For Your CEA Operation?

Determining the type of food safety certification your operation needs, or if you even need one, can be confusing and overwhelming when you are new to the process. Where do you start? Begin with your customers!

If you sell directly to consumers, such as fresh-from-the-farm or at farmer’s markets, then your customers likely know you and feel that they have a sense of how you conduct your operation. You have probably already established a trust with your customers and do not need a third-party food safety audit unless you feel that its marketing value justifies the additional expense.

But if you sell to a wholesaler or retailer or other food distributor, they probably have specific requirements about the type of food safety certification they require suppliers to maintain. They may just have the basic requirement of any third-party audit and certification. They may require a specific “scheme” such as GLOBALG.A.P., Primus, SQF, etc.. They may not dictate the certification scheme but require that you hold a Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)-benchmarked third-party certification. This means that the type of audit and certification you choose must be GFSI-benchmarked and meet the internationally agreed upon GFSI requirements. There are several options that meet this requirement. This chart lists the most popular types of third-party audits, as well as indicating which types have a GFSI version.

Ceres Certification International Chart 1

In order to be able to sell your products to the major grocery retailers you would need to meet their specific requirements, listed below:

Now that you know what type of certification you need, you are probably wondering where to start the process to get this certification. Do an online search for CBs offering the type of certification you have decided upon. CBs are Certifying Bodies- these companies are licensed by the audit scheme to perform the audits and make the certification decisions. Make a list of a few that offer what you need (they don’t necessarily need to be local since most CBs have auditors for each section of the country, but you do want to choose one headquartered in your main country of operation) and reach out to them. You will quickly get a sense of which CBs will be easy to work with and have experience with your type of operation.

The CB you select should be able to answer your questions to the point where you are comfortable signing a contract for their services, which will be required before the process can proceed. The application you submit to a CB may seem a bit overwhelming the first time, but the CB can help you with any questions. They are trying to get as clear of picture of your operation as they can to ensure that the food safety certification is appropriate for your operation.

Once the application and paperwork is behind you, the CB will send an auditor to your operation to observe your primary agricultural activities. Don’t worry– a good CB will work with you to make sure this happens at a time that is both reasonable and convenient for you. If the auditor finds any issues, called non-conformances, you will have a chance to take measures to address/correct them immediately following the audit. Once that is done, the CB will review your entire file and issue certification or not. (Of course, there are appeal processes in place should you disagree with their decision.)

Your certification will be valid for up to one year, so you will need to go through the process again before that certification expires, but by then you’ll feel like an expert and won’t even break a sweat!

 

About Karl Kolb, Ph.D.

Karl is the founder and President of the High Sierra Group companies, which services more than 10,000 customers with Ceres Certifications, International (ISO 17065 food safety certifying body), HSG/AME Certified Laboratories (17025 food testing laboratories), Ceres University (Accredited, degree granting), High Sierra Chemicals and Epicure Farms.

 

About Kellie Worrell

Kellie Worrell has an extensive background in Agriculture and Food Safety. She has written several accurate ag children’s books, including the Virginia Ag In the Classroom Book of the Year. She has served as Food Safety Officer for farms with a wide variety of fresh vegetables, and is currently the GLOBALG.A.P. Scheme Administrator at Ceres Certifications, International.

 

About Ceres Certifications, International

Ceres Certifications, International (CCI) has been serving the produce industry since 2021.  CCI offers a wide variety of 3rd party food safety certifications, including both GFSI-benchmarked standards and more basic audits. Connect with its experienced Scheme Managers to discuss the extensive CCI offerings, including GLOBALG.A.P. IFA, HPSS, PHA, localg.a.p., a variety of GG add-ons, PrimusGFS, PrimusStandard, SQF, and more.  Learn more.

 

Eden Green Technology Partners with PathoSans® to Improve its Food Safety and Sustainability Practices

Eden Green Technology (EGT), an innovative indoor agriculture technology provider dedicated to food safety and sustainability, has partnered with PathoSans, a provider of environmentally responsible electrochemically-activated solutions (ECAS), for its sustainable cleaning and disinfecting needs.

Eden Green and PathosansDelivering “Greenhouse-as-a-Service” (GaaS), EGT designs, engineers and manufactures vertical greenhouses to help grow large amounts of fresh food that can be sourced locally. The company partnered with PathoSans because unlike traditional caustic cleaning chemicals, PathoSans’ ECAS technology produces a cleaner and disinfectant using just salt, water and electricity. It contains no added fragrances and is safe for use on foods and in food preparation. In addition, the disinfectant eliminates pathogens and molds that can exist on food, where food grows, and in food packaging and preparation areas.

eden green and pathosans“Food safety is our top priority at EGT and it governs each of our processes,” said Aaron Fields, Director of Horticulture at Eden Green Technology Fields. “That’s why we chose PathoSans to ensure our operations use safe and effective cleaning solutions. PathoSans shares our mission of delivering innovative technology with a focus on social responsibility, safety, self-sufficiency, and sustainability.”

Increasing Self-Sufficiency and Sustainability with On-Site Generation

 PathoSans’ on-site generation system enables EGT to produce both cleaning and disinfectant solutions on-demand, without reliance on traditional supply chains. This complements EGT’s business model as it operates self-sufficient greenhouses using location and climate agnostic technology that enables indoor farm crops to be produced anywhere. Doing so allows EGT to address food deserts and help restaurants, grocery stores and governments produce food without the need for transporting long distances. The ability to now produce an unlimited supply of cleaning solutions as needed enables EGT to provide even more self-sufficient greenhouses to its clients regardless of size or location.

Through its partnership with PathoSans, EGT can also fulfill its mission of providing greenhouses and services that reduce waste, water consumption and reliance on greenhouse gas emissions. On-site generation of cleaning and disinfecting solutions allows EGT and its clients to refill spray bottles and reduce plastic waste. Without relying on chemical supply chains, EGT further shrinks its carbon footprint by eliminating chemical transportation, storage and disposal. Additionally, since PathoSans solutions leave no chemical residue behind on surfaces, greenhouses can save water since less rinsing is required.

“PathoSans is an excellent example of a partner that seamlessly fits into our process while bringing sustainable solutions to our clients with environmentally-responsible cleaning and disinfecting,” added Fields. “We plan to incorporate PathoSans solutions into more processes of operations and work with them on new innovations. Not only will PathoSans products keep our production safe and clean, but they will be paramount to the success of our Food Safety program of the future.”

PathoSans will be exhibiting at Indoor Ag-Con at booth 527. For more information, visit www.pathosans.com.

Canada’s Largest Commercial Vertical Farm | Q&A With GoodLeaf Farms’ Shawn Woods

GoodLeaf FarmsWhat started in 2011 as a dream to deliver fresh, nutritious produce to Canadians year-round has become reality. As Canada’s first and largest commercial vertical farming operation, GoodLeaf Farms began supplying microgreens and baby greens to retail locations and restaurants throughout Ontario in 2019.

Indoor Ag-Con is excited to kick off our 2022 Indoor Ag-Conversations webinar series on June 1, 2022 at 2:30 pm ET with the idea-packed case study session , “A Dream Becomes Reality” with GoodLeaf Farm Manager Shawn Woods and equipment partners from Signify & Montel.  Ahead of the webinar, we had the chance to catch up with Shawn to learn a little more about how GoodLeaf is delivering on its mission and what’s next for the growing company.

 What are you growing at your Guelph, Ontario operation, and, what differentiates GoodLeaf from other vertical farms in the marketplace

GoodLeaf FarmsWe are currently growing microgreens  — Spicy Mustard Medley, Pea Shoots, Asian Blend, Micro Arugula, Micro Radish, and Micro Broccoli —  and baby greens – Ontario Arugula, Ontario Spring Mix and Ontario Baby Spinach.

In terms of what sets us apart, we are Canada’s largest commercial vertical farm, and the only one with scale to supply the major grocery chains with safe, fresh, and healthy greens. We lead the industry in Food Safety with SQF Level 2 Certification and a positive release program, which  means that we test every harvest for pathogens and only release them once they have been cleared by our internal lab

In addition, our proprietary technology enables us to grow nutrient-dense local food that is environmentally conscious 365 days a year.

From Day One, our focus has been on growing healthy, tasty food that people want to eat. We use our technology to grow food, while others use technology to collect data.

 

Sustainability is a key part of your mission. Can you share some of GoodLeaf’s sustainable practices and initiatives?

GoodLeaf Farms Sustainable PracticesOur sustainable practices include:

  • Water use in vertical farming is 95 per cent less than traditional farming methods.
  • More food can be grown per acre, maximizing use of space, and limiting land use.
  • Because our farm is indoors in an environment that is almost entirely controlled, there are no pests, bugs, or birds — and thus no pesticides, herbicides or fungicides are used.
  • The water used is cleaned and recirculated, so there are no run-off issues.
  • Peat / Soil is recycled and re-used in landscaping.
  • Favorable carbon footprint compared to traditional farming.
  • By providing a local food source, we are removing thousands of food miles annually; Leafy greens coming from the southwestern United States are trucked across the continent, burning fossil fuels the whole way.

 

Last year, GoodLeaf announced an aggressive growth and expansion plan to build a national network of vertical farms.   Can you share updates, including progress on the Calgary project?

GoodLeaf FarmsConstruction on our Calgary farm is well under way. We are on schedule to have the 95,000-square-foot farm open and providing fresh leafy greens to grocery stores across Western Canada in first half of next year.

We are continuing to move forward with our plans for a similar facility in the Montreal area but are not able to provide additional information at this time.   

 

GoodLeaf is working on a number of R&D projects with universities to advance the science & engineering of vertical farming.  Can you tell us about any of the projects currently underway?

We have an MoU with the University of Guelph to build stronger links between theoretical research, the development of technology and processes and practical application in the field.

Some of the best and most innovative agricultural research in Canada happens at the University of Guelph. Building on the vertical farm technology we have already developed and are using; it will be exciting to see where this partnership can take us.

Some of the projects currently under way with the University of Guelph include research into:

  • Enhancing yields, plant science and new product development.
  • Substrates, growing compounds, and microbiology.
  • Human resources and training future experts in the field of vertical farming.

 

What’s next for GoodLeaf ?

GoodLeaf FarmsWe are constantly innovating and experimenting with new processes and products to bring the best possible leafy greens to Canadian consumers.

Efforts continue to build partnerships with grocery retailers across Canada, and we are aggressively pursuing growth into the restaurant and hospitality sector. Chefs can do wondrous things with our leafy greens, and we are excited to see where this journey will take us.

While Canada is our priority today, we can’t wait to bring our greens to consumers across the globe

What’s more, we are excited about other opportunities for vertical farming to add value — expanding the portfolio beyond leafy greens or growing specialty crops for healthcare

 

To learn more about GoodLeaf Farms, visit the website at www.goodleaffarms.com  and check out this video that takes you through a quick tour of GoodLeaf’s seeding and grow rooms, harvesting and packaging:

 

Q&A With BrightFarms CEO Steve Platt

‘It’s An Exciting Time To Be In the Business Of Indoor Farming’ 

Indoor Ag-Con is excited to announce that BrightFarms CEO Steve Platt and Cox Enterprises VP Steven Bradley will kick-off the February 28 – March 1, 2022 edition of Indoor Ag-Con with the opening morning keynote address. Platt and Bradley will share how BrightFarms and Cox are working together to transform the indoor farming industry – further strengthening its position as a sustainable platform for the future.

Ahead of his upcoming keynote, we had the chance to catch up with Steve to hear more about BrightFarms’ future plans and goals in this month’s CEO Q&A.

Cox Enterprises, which had a majority stake in your company since 2020, acquired BrightFarms earlier this year as part of its stated mission to build a healthier, more sustainable future. What attracted Cox to Bright Farms initially?

BrightFarms Greenhouse

The mission of Cox Cleantech aligns with BrightFarms’ mission to improve the health of Americans and the planet with fresher, sustainably grown local food. BrightFarms has been a leader in indoor farming since 2013, building out a decentralized network of local farms. Our demonstrated ability to replicate our model while developing deep partnerships with retailers was unique to the indoor farming industry. Since investing in 2018, Cox has been a fantastic partner and we’re now proud to be a fully owned subsidiary of the company.

We read that BrightFarms has expansion plans designed to bring local indoor leafy greens to more than 2/3 of the US by 2025. Can you share more about how you hope to achieve this goal?

We’re expanding our footprint and capacity with much larger farms ― 10-40-acre greenhouses that can serve as a complete salad category solution for retailers. We predict that in 10 years, 50% of leafy greens nationwide will be sourced from indoor farms, and BrightFarms will be a big part of that growth. We’re poised for massive growth in the coming years as we scale across the country. It’s an exciting time to be in the business of indoor farming.

What differentiates BrightFarms’ growing methods and services from others in the space?

BrightFarms Greenhouse

We have a proven, scalable model and are developing proprietary technology, called BrightOS, to support everything we do — from growing the plants themselves, to staying on top of food safety and leveraging greenhouse supply and retailer demand. Our experience and success in the market sets us apart from many other indoor farming companies still establishing their technology, footprint, or go-to-market strategy. We’re also the first company to be backed by a blue-chip company, Cox Enterprises, that is wholly supportive of our model and growth.

This year, BrightFarms also announced larger investments in R&D including the creation of a new R&D hub, BrightLabs. Could you share a little about why you created it and what the BrightLabs team is working on?

In 2021, we brought on our VP of Agriculture & Science, Dr. Matt Lingard, who heads up our R&D and food safety programs. Matt is building a team that will focus on delivering the highest quality complete salad program in the industry.

For more information on BrightFarms, visit the company website.  And, register today to attend the 2022 edition of Indoor Ag-Con to hear more from Steve about the company’s exciting plans!