Safety Scrutiny Turns To Grain
January 7th, 2013
by Amy Mayer
Newell, IA — As new rules from the Food and Drug Administration are unveiled, grain handlers question the cost.[audio:https://kvnonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Untitled.mp3]
The Food and Drug Administration recently unveiled the first batch of its new food safety rules. These regulationsâ€”covering everything from sanitation to record-keepingâ€”are being overhauled under the Food Safety and Modernization Act, which became law two years ago. While the produce and meat industries get the lionâ€™s share of attention in the first set of rule changes, the FDA is also preparing to release standards for facilities making animal feed.
The law, passed in 2011, brings the 10,000 grain elevators and thousands of feed processors across the country into the food system for regulatory purposes. That could mean big changes for operations that use a lot of grain like animal feed companies and grain elevators.
On a recent day at DFS Animal Nutrition in Newell, Iowa, Sam Putnam dumped a corn sample from a waiting truck into a machine that measures its moisture. The driver awaited her approval and then moved on to dump his grain. The machine is one of the many measures the company has in place to monitor its product, said Leland McKinney, the companyâ€™s director of quality management systems.
â€œMaking sure that you have a quality product goes parallel with the safety,â€ McKinney said.
Some expect implementation of the new standards will entail costly procedures and extensive reports. But McKinney says a grain elevator or mill thatâ€™s using rigid quality controls and keeping good records shouldnâ€™t be intimidated.
Inside the companyâ€™s North Mill, McKinney likened the process of making animal feed to baking a cake. You start with the dry ingredientsâ€”imagine corn as the flour of this â€œcakeâ€. The plant has a series of conveyors that bring in the minor ingredients and McKinney explained everything is weighed to precise quantities before being combined. Minor ingredientsâ€”the baking soda or salt in a cakeâ€”might be vitamins or medicine.
â€œAll of those get weighed out and then brought together in your mixer,â€ McKinney said.
The huge green metal mixer could easily swallow up your Kitchen Aid. It holds six tons. Liquid ingredients such as fat are then added via overhead pipes. The mixture is heated, made into pellets and then dried and cooled. Mill workers oversee each step from a windowed command room with five computer monitors. Each hour, the DFS mill can produce 90-100 tons of feed for swine and turkeys.
Medicated feed processors, like DFS, have already been subject to federal food safety inspections. But the new law means inspectors now will visit grain operations of all kinds. Iowa State University professor Gretchen Mosher says workers at grain elevators often donâ€™t see the mounds of corn around them the same way the law does.
â€œThey just donâ€™t think of it as food, either human or animal,â€ Mosher said. â€œAnd so they just see things that theyâ€™re used to seeing â€“ you know, oil dripping down in the pit and rats, dead rats, etcetera, lying around.â€
Yes, rats, because where thereâ€™s grain there will be rodents. Until now, theyâ€™ve been viewed largely as a threat to profitâ€”they eat the grainâ€”not safety. Grain elevators already have pest management plans. But now, an inspector might ask to see receipts from the pest control companyâ€™s past visits.
Itâ€™s worth noting bulk grains have a solid safety record. The new rules are not a response to problems, Mosher said. Rather, theyâ€™re an effort at defining the food system holistically. Mosher says her research shows more meticulous record-keeping can improve product and increase profit.
â€œWhen you manage the quality of the product better, you can see a fairly significant return on your investment, almost a 2-to-1 return,â€ she said.
System-wide, Food Safety and Modernization Act cost estimates are significant. The National Grain and Feed Associationâ€™s David Fairfield says he has heard $1-2 billion for human food facilities and $100-200 million dollars for animal feed. For smaller operators or places that donâ€™t already have sufficient systems in place, the cost of complying could shut them down.
â€œThereâ€™s no question that increased regulations are one driver for consolidation,â€ Fairfield said.
And failing to comply now has consequences: under the new law, FDA inspectors have the authority to impose fines. Thatâ€™s something they havenâ€™t had before, and it means the Food Safety Act is not only broader but also stronger than older food regulations.
The new rules are expected to be implemented in the second half of 2013 after a public comment period. Consumers wonâ€™t likely notice any changes. But the impact on grain handlers may depend largely on how prepared they are.
Comments are closed.