Earthbound Farm, competitors talk food safetySAN JUAN BAUTISTA, Calif. – Rival companies dropped their competitive guard momentarily to discuss food safety and changes in wash systems as Earthbound Farm opened its doors to them.

A group of about 15 attended a plant tour and meeting July 25 at the San Juan Bautista-based organic grower-shipper. They included representatives of SmartWash Solutions, Taylor Farms, Ready Pac Foods, Field Fresh Foods, Club Chef and Yum! Brands.

Will Daniels, senior vice president for operations at Earthbound Farm, announced plans for the meeting in May during the Food Safety Summit in Baltimore. Daniels and Larry Smith, senior manager of maintenance, led a discussion of wash technology at Earthbound.

Steven Swarts, director of business development for Salinas-based SmartWash Solutions, welcomed the meeting.

“Any time we can all come together, share best practices and work together to improve food safety, it’s a benefit to all the companies involved,” Swarts said.

Discussion revolved around controls on chlorine levels in produce washes.

“We’re always looking to improve the specifications, reduce the upper and lower ranges of free chlorine and bring in tighter controls for the entire process,” Swarts said. “A lot of us have had trouble with the upper ranges, where we have environmental issues with employees. Lower ranges would be the food safety concerns.”

Earthbound Farm reduced deviations in chlorine levels with changes to its wash system that have been in place for about two years, Daniels and Smith said.

“Systems in the past would have a wide range of fluctuation from the set point,” Daniels said. “If your set point is 20 parts per million free, you might have seen it drop down to five or go up to 35. With the system we’ve put in place, you see plus or minus two, so it can go from 18 to 22. If you can maintain that band tightly, you have more control of your system.”