Take the Stress out of Food Safety Inspections

Felipe-Gallardo-harvesting-collard-greens-at-Buurma-Farms
Felipe Gallardo harvesting collard greens at Buurma Farms.

A lot of growers understandably hate food safety inspections. While everyone wants to keep produce safe for public consumption, the regulations and paperwork involved spark complaints like few other issues.

Joel Buurma

Joel Buurma isn’t likely to join in on the complaints. He heads up his family’s operation’s food safety program, and Willard, OH-based Buurma Farms has an excellent track record with food safety.

And the system he has in place is so straightforward, any farm can use it, helping take the hassle out of food safety inspections.

“Honestly, we try not to do anything different for the inspection,” Buurma says. “It’s an ongoing thing; you’ve got to be doing it all the time in order for it to actually work. We don’t try to hurry up and get ready for the audit.”

Step One: Make Food Safety a Priority

For Buurma, the food safety program is about much more than paperwork.

“Number one, we certainly don’t want to be responsible for ever making anyone sick or worse,” he says.

That’s a viewpoint everyone can get behind. But Buurma thinks that the extensive paperwork involved with food safety programs is a good thing, too.
“Whatever it is that happens, you want to do everything you can to show that you made every effort you could to prevent harm. Stuff still happens. You can’t prevent everything, but you’ve got to do your best to try,” he says.

And… “If you didn’t document, it didn’t happen,” Buurma says.

How the Buurma Food Safety Program Works

1. One Guy Is in Charge. Buurma heads up food safety for all Buurma Farms locations, which in addition to Ohio, are located in Michigan and Georgia.

In that role, he creates standard operating procedures (SOP), trains groups of employees, collects the ongoing paperwork, conducts internal inspections, and makes sure retraining takes place whenever he perceives any misunderstandings or weaknesses.

“I coordinate it, I oversee it,” Buurma says. “I create all the SOPs with input from other people. Hopefully, everyone is involved to a certain degree. A lot of people are in charge of their own areas, but the buck stops here.”

2. Crew bosses coordinate the program with their teams. Supervisors oversee the daily activity for the farm, packing shed, and shipping. So it only makes sense for them to track activity, sign off on when and where the crop interacted with equipment and people, and send it to Buurma, who keeps it on file.

3. Everything is on paper. While Buurma likes the idea of automating much of the paperwork involved with food safety, his operation isn’t ready for that step. First, much of the Buurma operation is not on WiFi. And second, he’s certain the wet and dirty conditions in the field will shorten the life of any electronics used, making it unreliable.

4. What’s tracked? Everything. “We use a traceability program for shipping, track every package down to the box level. We can tell you where it went and when it leaves here. We can trace each box, whether it was grown by us or purchased from a supplier, every step through our processes, all the way to when it was shipped and to whom. Or we can trace that back to the date and field it was harvested in and from there down when it was planted, the exact seed lot used, and everything that was done to it since,” Buurma says.

Which Guidelines Does Buurma Follow?

Buurma Farms works with Primus GFS and GlobalGAP for its audits. Primus provides the operation with the exact checklists that the auditor would use.

“It’s pretty extensive, there are four parts to it: Food Safety Management System; Good Agriculture Practices; Good Manufacturing Practices; and Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points. Just the checklist is 66 pages, with about eight questions per page. The Standards, Guidelines, and Interpretations are significantly more than that.” Buurma says.

Setting the Policies

The biggest step to an effective program is getting written policies in place, Buurma says. They have to be thought through, and include every step that food safety programs require.

He ticks off an extensive list to illustrate his point:

“You can’t just do it. You have to have a procedure of exactly what you do, how you do it, when you do it, how often you chart, and have the documentation to show that has been done. You need to show it was approved — checking that it was done,” he says.

How does that get carried out realistically? Supply everyone in the company with what they need to follow the rules.

Buurma gives each key employee a booklet with the Buurma Farms’ policies as they apply to that individual. The booklet tends to have five or six SOPs that apply directly to that employee. So the booklet an irrigation crew boss receives will be markedly different from the one a tractor driver or line leaders in the packing shed will have.

Grading-radishes-at-Buurma-Farms
Each employee understands how his or her actions can keep food safe or allow it to be contaminated.

Training Early and Often

There are two levels of training for Buurma employees. The first training takes place at the time of hire, typically at the beginning of the spring season each year. Even those crew members who have been through it time after time are included.

OSHA training is included in this annual refresher course. The food safety portion reviews the basics of food safety — including hand-washing, hygiene, and clothing.

“We use a video on food safety from Cornell University. It’s in both English and Spanish,” Buurma says.

Naturally, the training is documented. Employees sign a sheet saying they’ve read, understood, and will comply with all of Buurma’s policies. Then the paperwork is collected and filed.

For the second level of training, Buurma travels between the different operations, working with like groups of employees (tractor drivers together, for example).

“Most of these guys have been doing it for a long time, for more years than I’ve been around,” Buurma says. “So they go through it again every year as a refresher.”

Training doesn’t have to be a big deal, Buurma says.

“Call all the guys together on a break, or after their lunch, and just read through the policy. Or we can talk about things, do a demonstration, whatever it might take,” he says.

Self-Inspections

Buurma Farms conducts food safety self-inspections several times throughout the year. Buurma aims for quarterly self-inspections. Additionally, the operations undergoes state inspections and several customer audits each year.

“I generally plan for self-inspections at the beginning and in the middle of the season, with the third-party audit towards the end when all commodities we produce are in season, so all can be inspected at once,” Buurma says.

All of the self-inspections allow Buurma to spot any issues long before they become a problem.

“If I there’s something that needs to be addressed, we’ll do a retraining or we’ll modify our procedures if we feel that’s necessary,” he says.

Buurma’s System Put to the Test

Buurma says what he does is nothing special.

Perhaps, but it works.

A few years ago, the company had a scare when a random test by the State of Michigan showed a potential pathogen.

Michigan allows state inspectors to pull produce from store shelves for testing. It’s a practice growers aren’t happy with, since they have no control over what happens once produce is shipped.

Extensive further testing of the crop, the equipment, and the facility showed no signs of any pathogens.

“Of course, you go through and pull all of your documentation and show that you did everything you possibly could do right.”

Buurma Farms had all the documentation it needed to prove it was in compliance with food safety regulations.

While the incident didn’t lead to any regulatory fall out, the operation was still hit financially.

Out of an abundance of caution, Buurma Farms pulled the crop from the time the first sample was reported until they received the all clear. In this case, that meant they lost out on several weeks of shipping and selling the crop.

“You only have a short season. Any time you have something like this happen, it’s a big hit,” Buurma says.

Why the Extra Paperwork is Worth it

Buurma concedes all the signed papers showing that training happened, tracking when and by whom a crop was harvested, is a pain.

“There’s no doubt that it’s extra effort. It’s extra expense. It’s not fun, and nobody likes it,” he says. “But if something happens, you want all the documentation possible to be able to show you did things right. It’s an insurance policy as much as anything else. It’s a little extra work, but people get used to it, and they expect it now. You have to curry that kind of culture, that expectation, and follow up on it and make sure. That’s all there is to it.”

Leave a Reply

4 comments on “Take the Stress out of Food Safety Inspections

  1. What is really nonsense and superfluous overreach is food safety licensing and inspection for wineries. Wine kills human pathogens and has no history of food safety issues, and since licensing passed in a 2009 budget bill (by surprise) we have been subject to food processing licensing and regulation by the Ohio Department of Agriculture. This is duplicate of licensing and regulation as provided in Ohio liquor codes. Many other states exempt from this sort of duplicate licensing and regulation. Ohio’s regulation is superfluous, unnecessary, duplicate and also discriminates against Ohio wineries by wineries from out of state that are not subject to the same food processing licensing and regulatory costs that sell wholesale in Ohio. As a traditional artisan winemaker that values microbial diversity in the winery environment I also find the regulation is in direct opposition to my winemaking principles. http://www.FreeTheWineries.com or http://www.facebook.com/FreeTheWineries

  2. I work for a large grower/packer/shipper and we use iFood to manage all of our field and facility food safety data. Their software has really improved processes…not only do we not have any paper to deal with, but I know exactly what’s going on – real-time – even across state lines. We bought refurbished tablets and weatherproof cases and have had no issues. And their app allows us to capture info in areas where there is no signal. Would highly recommend. http://www.idsfoodsafety.com

Farm Management Stories
GenNext Growers
August 17, 2017
Young Growers See Evolving Orchard Production on Cornell Tour
A group of 30 got a chance to see operations boasting vertical integration and higher production per acre up close in the Champlain region of New York State and Vermont. Read More
Agritainment
Citrus
August 15, 2017
New Conference to Shine Spotlight on Central Florida Agritourism
Education and interaction part of UF/IFAS-led agenda. Read More
Farm Management
August 11, 2017
Vegetable Growers’ Food Safety Vigilance Is Paying Off (Opinion)
When you hear about recalls, the horror stories come to mind first. That’s understandable, considering the human cost involved with Read More
Farm Management
August 10, 2017
Climate Change Drives New Healthy Soils Program
California offers farmers grants to improve soil health; new program is funded by cap-and-trade auction revenue. Read More
Jose Dubeux and Mack Glass talk farming in a Florida forage field
Citrus
August 9, 2017
Florida Farming and University Extension Grow Hand in Hand [Opinion]
Learning is a two-way street to success in the field and the lab. Read More
Citrus
August 9, 2017
Traceability Products to Help You Track Produce
One way to ease the process of a food safety recall is by having detailed records of where each crop has been and who has touched it. Look over these traceability products using the latest technology to help you stay on top of your records. Read More
Flooded farm field in Florida
Citrus
August 8, 2017
Drought-Busted Sunshine State Still on the Dry Side
Despite prolific periods of precipitation, parts of Florida remain under water shortage warning order. Read More
GenNext Growers
August 8, 2017
Winegrape Society Awards $100,000 in Scholarships
American Society for Enology and Viticulture bestows awards at its 68th national conference. Read More
Citrus
August 7, 2017
New Funding Available for Agricultural Technology
USDA announces $400,000 to support ag science entrepreneurs. Read More
Citrus
August 2, 2017
Recalls Happen. Here’s What You Can Do If It Happens to You
Follow this 10-Step plan to protect the public — and your farm. As a bonus, see how Duda Farms runs its mock recalls. Read More
Therapeutic cannabis closeup in the greenhouse
Citrus
August 2, 2017
Florida Farm Set to Bring Organic Medical Cannabis to the Table
3 Boys Farm finally gets its medical marijuana treatment center license; gearing to offer unique product in a budding market. Read More
Citrus
August 2, 2017
Perdue Appoints Key Food Safety Leaders
Carmen Rottenberg has been appointed Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, and Paul Kiecker has been named Acting Administrator for the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Read More
Tropical Storm Emily graphic
Citrus
July 31, 2017
Surprise! Emily Storms Ashore in the Sunshine State
State of emergency declared for fast-forming tropical system. Read More
Citrus
July 26, 2017
Despite Controversy, Most Major Ag Groups Support Sam Clovis’ USDA Nomination
Most of the major agricultural associations are coming out in support of President Donald Trump’s nomination of Sam Clovis to Read More
Citrus
July 26, 2017
If We Want American Farm Workers, We Have to Offer Even More [Opinion]
Now is the time to lobby for ways to attract American labor. One idea? Offer college tuition and student loan forgiveness in exchange for farm work. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
August 21, 2017
Take Alternative Routes to Find Conventi…
In order to grow, things have to change. Are you ready? Read More
Citrus
August 19, 2017
More Forage Grants Distributed in Honor …
National forage program is scattering seeds from New York to California to celebrate pollinators. Read More
Citrus
August 17, 2017
How Wicked Will Winter 2018 Be in the U.…
The 200th edition of the Farmers’ Almanac reveals wide-ranging weather patterns and events that would require everything from shovels to shorts. Read More
Farm Management
August 11, 2017
Vegetable Growers’ Food Safety Vigilance…
When you hear about recalls, the horror stories come to mind first. That’s understandable, considering the human cost involved with Read More
Farm Management
August 10, 2017
Climate Change Drives New Healthy Soils …
California offers farmers grants to improve soil health; new program is funded by cap-and-trade auction revenue. Read More
Citrus
August 9, 2017
Florida Farming and University Extension…
Learning is a two-way street to success in the field and the lab. Read More
Citrus
August 9, 2017
Traceability Products to Help You Track …
One way to ease the process of a food safety recall is by having detailed records of where each crop has been and who has touched it. Look over these traceability products using the latest technology to help you stay on top of your records. Read More
Citrus
August 8, 2017
Drought-Busted Sunshine State Still on t…
Despite prolific periods of precipitation, parts of Florida remain under water shortage warning order. Read More
Citrus
August 7, 2017
New Funding Available for Agricultural T…
USDA announces $400,000 to support ag science entrepreneurs. Read More
Citrus
August 2, 2017
Recalls Happen. Here’s What You Ca…
Follow this 10-Step plan to protect the public — and your farm. As a bonus, see how Duda Farms runs its mock recalls. Read More
Citrus
August 2, 2017
Florida Farm Set to Bring Organic Medica…
3 Boys Farm finally gets its medical marijuana treatment center license; gearing to offer unique product in a budding market. Read More
Citrus
August 2, 2017
Perdue Appoints Key Food Safety Leaders
Carmen Rottenberg has been appointed Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, and Paul Kiecker has been named Acting Administrator for the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Read More
Citrus
July 31, 2017
Surprise! Emily Storms Ashore in the Sun…
State of emergency declared for fast-forming tropical system. Read More
Citrus
July 26, 2017
Despite Controversy, Most Major Ag Group…
Most of the major agricultural associations are coming out in support of President Donald Trump’s nomination of Sam Clovis to Read More
Citrus
July 26, 2017
If We Want American Farm Workers, We Hav…
Now is the time to lobby for ways to attract American labor. One idea? Offer college tuition and student loan forgiveness in exchange for farm work. Read More
Farm Management
July 25, 2017
Grants Allocated to Tackle Changing Clim…
Projects designed to develop new approaches to mitigate effects of changing growing environment. Read More
Farm Management
July 24, 2017
American Farm Bureau Weighs in for Growe…
John Duarte, the owner of Duarte Nursery, one of the largest grapevine and nut tree suppliers on the West Coast, recently gained Read More
Citrus
July 20, 2017
Atlantic Hurricane Forecast Taken Up a N…
Current conditions in the tropics warrant marked revision in potential storm season scenarios. Read More