The first is an aged raw milk cheese made by a small company and distributed by Costco linked to E.coli. The second is a small cider mill making unpasteurized cider linked to E. coli, and lastly, last month’s case of Listeria related illness linked to chopped celery.
What is interesting in these cases is that they are all small, regional companies who have experienced issues, and were then written-up by the press. Two of the companies have nice websites that give you a positive impression of the company. (Bravo Farms http://www.bravofarms.com/, Baugher’s http://www.baughers.com/farm.html). The third was shut down.
Here are some items to note:
1)There is much attention on outbreaks related to large companies, but even small companies can, and will, have issues. (as in the insurance commercial – mayhem can happen – as a result from the smallest distraction or oversight). Further, small companies no longer fly under the radar of the investigations, or the press. With enhanced capabilities, local and state health agencies in conjunction with the CDC can track event the smallest outbreaks to the source. Therefore, companies of all sizes must have necessary food safety policies and procedures in place, records to show they are being completed, and verification procedures, such as testing, to show their success.
2)Retailers looking to find small niche products must know their potential suppliers capabilities before they begin selling these products. There is a trend for retailers, looking to enhance their offerings, to find small companies making unique products, similar to Costco selling Bravo Farm products. Diligence must be taken to ensure these smaller suppliers have robust quality and food safety systems.
3)Consumers should not assume that local product is free of risk just because it is local. If a consumer buys unpasteurized apple juice, there is an increased risk over pasteurized product.
4)There is help available through associations, government agencies (USDA’s Small and Very Small Plant Outreach), and the Universities (Cooperative Extension and PennTAP) to assist with training and development.