Disaster leads to renewed investment
New facility to meet regulations on food safety
By JOHN O'CONNELL
PRESTON, Idaho -- Losing its local feed mill, grain storage and office space to a fire early this year has helped Valley Wide Cooperative prepare for anticipated federal food safety regulations, according to the company's feed division manager.
Valley Wide intends to invest $3.5 million in a modern facility with triple the capacity that will be built on the same site where the Preston structures burned March 7.
Experts say forthcoming Food Safety Modernization Act rules will require animal feed mills to enact similar hazard analysis and prevention protocols as facilities that handle human food. Shaun Parkinson, Valley Wide's feed manager, sees an opportunity to rebuild with potential FSMA requirements in mind.
"I think overall (the fire) is a blessing," Parkinson said.
The FSMA regulations will be modeled after Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, a program outlining a systematic approach to prevent food quality risks throughout the production process.
David Fairfield, vice president of feed services with the National Grain and Feed Association, advises mills to begin implementing HACCP concepts. He expects final rules will be approved by the end of 2013, giving facilities a year or two to comply.
"If you go to the effort of putting together a HACCP framework, you'll be a long way ahead," Fairfield said.
Parkinson's new facility will be highly automated, making compliance with future rules easier to attain by reducing human error and contact with feed. Parkinson anticipates his facility will be asked to test every load of grain for mycotoxins, check moisture levels of corn and keep careful records. He also expects requirements to ensure proper cleaning of grain trucks that previously moved cargo not approved for contact with feed. He disagrees such strict regulations are necessary for livestock feed, but acknowledges they stand to minimize potential product losses and provide reassurance to consumers.
"I think the overall mindset for the feed industry is we need to embrace HACCP and other things, and try to get going on it when it's voluntary," Parkinson said. "It's a heck of a lot easier to do it on your timetable than somebody else's."
Rick Yabroff, director of safety and environmental issues with J.D. Heiskell & Co., which has Idaho locations in Twin Falls, Gooding and Wendell, as well as mills in California and other states, said the industry is involved in negotiations on final rules. Though they'll follow HACCP principles, he predicts feed mill standards will be less detailed than rules governing human food facilities.
Despite the uncertainty, he said his company has begun evaluating risks and laying the foundation to comply. He said the regulations will require more paperwork, but little investment in capital improvements.
"We're expecting we'll be needing to identify areas of potential contamination of feed and develop strategies to minimize that potential," Yabroff said. "What is not as clear is what the record-keeping requirements will be."
He said producers will also be affected as mills will ask for more information about how they store and transport grain.
"There may be some education of what the regulations are concerned about that we'll need to provide to producers so they can self identify areas of concern we need to be aware of," Yabroff said.