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ACS, Dairy Innovation Center Launch Artisan Advisory Team For Food Safety

The Innovation Center for US Dairy (IC) and the American Cheese Society (ACS) have joined to create a new Artisan Advisory Team to help promote food safety at the artisan/farmstead level.

The initiative – beginning with the creation of a website designed as a free repository of food safety information – would be available not only to ACS members, but to the entire artisan cheesemaking community.

Following the ACS conference last year in Providence, RI, Dennis D’Amico, Marianne Smukowski and some of the folks from the Innovation Center pulled together a grant to hold an all-day meeting to look at what information exists as far as food safety information in the artisan cheesemaking realm, and what information is lacking, said ACS executive director Nora Weiser.

“We also looked at how we could pull together to fill in some of the gaps and make what we do have more readily accessible,” Weiser said.

A follow-up of that meeting consisted of a smaller subset of attendees to tackle some of the projects and see if we could make something really happen, she said.

We had a meeting in Chicago earlier this spring and from that outcome, identified several different areas that really needed attention, Weiser said.

One issue that ACS is tackling is developing a website that can house and service a repository for all of these different resources.

“It will be a resource of resources more than anything else. There has been good progress being made pulling together what information needs to be there, and making sure it stays up to date by not just posting documents, but linking to the most current version,” she said.

To that end, ACS has added a new content manager to its staff, Sarah Spira, who is responsible for taking all ACS content in various formats – written documents, videos, PowerPoint presentations and audio tapes – and organizing the content so information is searchable and accessible.

With a master’s degree in library science and information, Spira also spent time during graduate school working at Formaggio Kitchen in Boston.

Tim Stubbs, vice president of product research and food safety for Dairy Management, Inc. (DMI), said the Artisan Advisory Team is an effort to bring together DMI, ACS, IC and the Wisconsin Dairy Center for Research (CDR), among others.

The diverse artisan industry group consists of a number of cheese makers, academics and suppliers ready to attack those next steps from Providence, Stubbs said.

The advisory team features Dave Potter, president and technical manager at Dairy Connection Inc., a supplier to small-scale operations, along with SYSCO representatives and buyers from Whole Foods Market.

“It’s the concept of an essential website and we’re the service provider, but the content is much more broad than just ACS. We need to reach everyone.”
– Nora Weiser, ACS executive director

“We haven’t activated those networks yet, but that will allow us to reach as broad an audience as possible,” Stubbs said.

We’re working on an online training workshop, which will replace the in-person workshop IC has been doing since 2012. We’re also wrestling with how to take the incredible level of support and resourcing from Wisconsin, Cornell, Oregon State and Penn State, along with a few pockets across the country, to try and provide that support on a national level, Stubbs said.

“It would help a cheese maker in southern Arkansas that wouldn’t necessarily have one of those great cheesemaking institutions nearby,” he said.

The idea is that the website will be a free repository of information, Weiser said. Where it takes you, you may need to purchase a paper or take a course at a university or be a member of ACS for some portions, Weiser said.

“It’s the concept of an essential website and we’re the service provider, but the content is much more broad than just ACS. We need to reach everyone,” Weiser said.

The site itself lives as an open and free resource – it’s kind of like a card catalog for what’s out there in the rest of the industry, she continued.

The Advisory Team is also working to put together online food safety courses. Historically, the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese (VIAC) had specific food safety education materials, which we adopted and have offered for the last four years through the IC and sponsored by a local or regional dairy checkoff organizations like the Midwest Dairy Association (MDA) or the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB).

That material will be available online as a free course, but is not a certification course. The IC offers a number of workshops on supply chain as well as plant food safety.

At next week’s ACS conference in Des Moines, IA, attendees will be offered several broad food safety sessions, including a five-part safe cheesemaking course that will be videotaped.

Collaboration Across The Industry
Tom Hedge, senior vice president of enterprise quality and food safety for Schreiber Foods, Inc., Green Bay, WI, also chairs IC’s Food Safety Initiative.

Two phrases of most importance regarding the new program are “collaboration” and “humbled and grateful,” Hedge said.

Almost six years ago, competitors inside the dairy industry got together to see if we could find common space for the industry to take accountability for itself and share best practices for food safety, Hedge said.

At the time, it was large dairy companies who competed with each other and we found a common space, and put together educational workshops and learning sessions, trying to do things together that no company or individual could do on their own, he said.

We had been working with Tom O’Connell, president of Marketing Concepts, Inc. and Weiser to include ACS and artisan producers in that effort, getting to know each other with like-minded importance of food safety across the entire industry, Hedge said.

“What makes me humbled and grateful on behalf of the Innovation Center group is that we can attract expertise and individuals who will donate their time and intellect to work together to improve food safety,” he said. “That’s what we’re starting to see at the Advisory Committee.”

It’s remarkable to see suppliers, retailers, foodservice firms and academics come together and work for the greater good and help a very important segment of the dairy industry – artisan and farmstead manufacturers, Hedge said.

There is currently no timetable for when the new website will be up and running, but Weiser said she’d love to have something up at the start of the new year.

“In order for it to be searchable and functional, we’ll do plenty of testing before it goes live,” she said.
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