North Fairfield, Ohio-based Doug Walcher Farms has made a number of investments in its food safety program for the 2009 season.

The company also has collaborated with another area vegetable shipper on a new transportation division.

Walcher Farms has joined forces with researchers at Ohio State University in order to study how best to sanitize irrigation water, said Ken Holthouse, the company’s general manager.

Walcher Farms also has enclosed its loading docks and adding cooling capabilities on them to better maintain the cold chain, Holthouse said.

The company also is adding two docks as part of the effort, he said.

With the dock upgrades, Walcher Farms can now store up to 2,000 square feet of potatoes and other commodities in a refrigerated environment kept in the mid-50s, Holthouse said.

Also in the food safety arena, Walcher Farms is now auditing its suppliers.

“We’ve always had a good GNP program. Now we’re expanding it to our growers,” he said. “We’re increasing the viability of food safety along the whole food chain.”

In the past, Walcher Farms would ask its growers to arrange their own audits, Holthouse said.

The importance of improving food safety programs couldn’t be more important, given the domino effect problems have, he said.

“All we need is one Ohio shipper to have a problem, and all shippers would be in trouble,” he said.

Kevin Holthouse, Ken’s cousin, will shift his focus to implementing a new traceability system in the company’s warehouse, Ken Holthouse said.

And because Kevin Holthouse will no longer be working on the transportation side of the business, Walcher Farms and another area company, Willard-based Holthouse Farms of Ohio Inc., are teaming up to create a transportation brokering business.

“We were spread a little too thin,” Holthouse said. “Kevin had handled it. Now this takes some pressure off of him.”

Rob Williams, a  transportation veteran who formerly owned his own company, has been brought on board to lead the new transportation division, Holthouse said.

“We’ve always had a good relationship with Rob,” he said. “We often get customers who ask us if we can help them find a truck for them.”

Williams will officially be an employee of Holthouse Farms, but he will work for both companies, Holthouse said.