Demand for organic and local fresh produce in the Twin Cities area doesn’t mean that all other standards go out the window. If anything, the trend has only increased food safety considerations in the area.
“For years, we’ve been leaders in food safety, and the focus was always on pathogens and contamination,” said Phillip Brooks, chief executive officer, H. Brooks & Co., New Brighton, Minn.
Now, Brooks said the focus is expanding, not shifting, to focus on things that cause chronic illnesses, inflammation, possibly cancer, or even birth defects.
“That’s being dramatic, but we’re now focusing on creating a healthier habitat overall,” Brooks said.
On the locally grown side, an increased focus on sourcing fruits and vegetables from small, nearby farms meant that wholesalers, retailers and others had to bring those operations up to speed with new food safety regulations and requirements.
H. Brooks began focusing on education efforts for local growers whose operations weren’t up to the food safety standards that is now required.
“Seven years ago, we starting putting on and supporting classes for those growers so they would know and understand what would be required of them in regards to food safety,” Brooks said.
The response was a little hesitant at first, but growers soon realized the benefits those audits brought along, according to Brooks.
“Once they accepted those changes, they’ve really stepped up and are really participating. They understand the importance of food safety as well,” he said.
Minneapolis-based Wholesale Produce Supply Co., also said food safety requirements are important for those local growers, said Brian Hauge, president, mentioning that selling local produce in a retail setting can be challenging.
“A lot of the homegrown growers can’t support the food safety requirements, and so many people overlook that when they buy items from farmers’ markets. You don’t know how or where he grew that produce,” Hauge said.
But, Hauge said he’s very pleased with the local growers he works with.
“For us, it’s all about food safety and offering a good product to customers,” he said.
The company plans to focus on offering locally grown peppers and tomatoes, include the Tasti-Lee, which Hauge is excited about.