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Research Center Back on Track

The clock is ticking for dairy manufacturers to meet provisions of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and a new federal grant approved last week will help small dairy processors in Wisconsin, pressed for time and staff, meet the deadline.

Diversity in Wisconsin’s dairy processing community means that most of the largest cheese manufacturing plants east of the Mississippi River work alongside dozens of small commercial processors, farmsteads and artisans. In all, the state has 94 small to very-small dairy processors and these are the target for a new USDA-NIFA (National Institute of Food & Agriculture) grant focused on food safety training.

Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA) and Center for Dairy Research (CDR) at the University of Wisconsin learned days ago that a $152,000 grant application for an “Artisan Dairy Producer Food Safety Initiative,” designed to offer free FSMA training and consulting services to small dairy manufacturers, is a go.

And it’s go time: small businesses – most dairy processors in Wisconsin – must have a completed food safety plan by September 2017 under FSMA’s “Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food.”  Very small businesses, averaging less than $1 million per year in annual sales of food, have an additional year.

In the last two years, NIFA recognized that specific target audiences – including farms and small processors – would need food safety education, training and technical assistance to achieve FSMA guidelines. CDR and WCMA identified small dairy processors as a target audience, and plan to assist as many as 50 of these manufacturers in 2017.

To date, most of Wisconsin’s smaller manufacturers have not initiated a FSMA food safety plan, according to food safety specialists at CDR. The regulation requires a hazard analysis unique to each dairy plant and documentation of preventative controls for each identified hazard. Plants must detail oversight and on-going management of their preventative controls via monitoring schedules, corrective action plans and verification of corrective actions.

The newly-funded Artisan Dairy Producer Food Safety Initiative will kick-off in early 2017 with a series of regional FSMA-training workshops. Any Wisconsin dairy manufacturer can attend and learn the key concepts and food safety requirements within FSMA regulations, and the basics of establishing a food safety plan for their facility.  At that point, manufacturers can decide to sign on for professional consulting services provided by the NIFA grant.

CDR food safety experts, alongside Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s certified FSMA trainer and two industry food safety specialists will lead these regional kick-off workshops.

The two food safety specialists will take it from there, traveling the state to perform on-site visits at licensed Wisconsin dairy plants to review facilities and collaborate with manufacturers as they draft food safety plans. With years of experience in plant audits, CDR staff has learned that food safety planning and daily execution of plans works best when the manufacturer, rather than a third party, initiates development of a food safety plan.

The grant will leverage existing FSMA compliance forms and materials created by CDR and WMMB, and on-line information, webinars, FAQs and reference documents will be prepared for general industry use.

This Wisconsin-based effort joins education offered by American Cheese Society and International Dairy Foods Association to bring the nation’s dairy industry into full compliance with the single largest change in federal food safety regulation in decades.

Dairy manufacturers can contact WCMA at 608-828-4550 for more information on the new Artisan Dairy Producer Food Safety Initiative.

Manufacturer buy-in is crucial to the success of this new initiative. The training and consulting services this grant provides are free, but busy leaders at small plants and farmsteads must commit time and effort to building food safety plans and implementing protocols within their facilities.  The future of their small businesses, and the safety of finely-crafted dairy products, depends on it.