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Fieldale Farms Wins 8th Annual Food Quality Award
Judges cite company’s continuous investment and focus on the future
by Tina DiMarcantonio
The owners and management at Fieldale Farms, a private label manufacturer and food service supplier of poultry products, operate on an essential concept: Continuous investment in employees and in the latest technology yields success. Following through on that concept has earned Fieldale Farms the 8th Annual Food Quality Award, sponsored by DuPont Qualicon (Wilmington, Del.) and presented by Food Quality magazine.
The panel of judges for this year’s award chose Fieldale Farms Further Processing Division, headquartered in Baldwin, Ga., based on the company’s “impressive efforts” in enhancing food quality and safety. One judge remarked: “Fieldale Farms Further Processing Division has made substantial investments in facility infrastructure, equipment, technology, and personnel. Their results demonstrate improvements in finances, customer satisfaction, and environmental impact, as well as improvement in quality and safety. … There is a constant theme throughout their submission and a clear commitment to continuous improvement over time.”
To download an abridged version of Fieldale Farms award-winning submission, click here.
That commitment to continuous improvement was recognized at an awards ceremony April 28 at the Food Safety Summit in Washington, D.C. The award was co-presented by Marcos Cantharino, global sales and marketing director at DuPont Qualicon, and Rick Biros, former publisher of Food Quality. “We’re honored to recognize superb achievements in the food industry because we believe in our responsibility to promote a culture of food safety and quality around the world,” Luiz Fischmann, global marketing manager at DuPont Qualicon, said in a statement.
The award ceremony, which was held at the Washington Convention Center’s Keynote Theater, began with a reception attended by over 300 people. Following the reception, Craig Wilson, assistant vice president and general merchandising manager of food safety and quality assurance for Costco Wholesale Corporation, delivered the keynote address, in which he discussed how companies can fight to ensure food safety in these tough economic times.
Food Safety, Quality Expand
A key event in Fieldale’s fight for food safety came in 2006, when the company invested in a 160,000-square foot expansion to grow its fully cooked product line. The expansion incorporated the latest food quality and safety technology into the building design—from the type of air filter systems chosen to the color-coded flooring installed to the design of the shipping and receiving docks, according to Dan White, PhD, food safety and quality assurance manager at Fieldale Farms Further Processing Division.
“The expansion was built with food safety in mind at every step,” added Blake Wikle, plant manager. “Our investments include insulated metal walls and ceilings, solid welded freezer panels, and magnetic locking doors to restrict employee access to fully cooked areas. These are a few examples in a long list of upgrades that are not typical in most poultry plants.”
Specific product investments included a Volta belting system implemented in the ready-to-eat product transfer zones. Volta belting is a nonabsorbent, ISO 90002-certified, smooth surface continuous belting made of thermoplastic elastomers, according to Dr. White. The belting is easy to clean, remove, and install and is scratch resistant—all features that prevent the product from harboring bacteria. What’s more, because the Volta belting system is constructed of medium- to lightweight belts, Fieldale Farms was able to remove a portion of the structure that supported the conventional belting previously used.
In the last year, the company also invested in Marel Template Slicing Machines (TSM) to reduce variation in production processes and improve product consistency, and in the Stork RevoPortioner, which reduces byproducts and minimizes variation in product shape and weight.
“Whenever we can reduce process variation, the consistency of our products improves and enhances our ability to meet our customers’ expectations,” Dr. White said. “Both the TSM and Revo- Portioner reduce our process variation, which improves our products’ consistency.”
Fieldale Farms also invested in two new X-ray machines, which have been estimated to improve the detection and bone elimination process by 10%. After recent reassessment and evaluation of the latest technology in metal detection systems, the company also decided to reinvest in this area to improve precision and reduce false rejections. Other investments include:
- a new water jet portioning technology to reduce variation in portion-controlled products;
- a new breading applicator to improve product consistency;
- work-in-process containers that will help to minimize product contamination; and
- new sanitation technology, including a detergent foaming additive, fogging equipment to increase sanitizer coverage, and equipment for sanitation of product transfer belts.
Employee training is another essential component of Fieldale Farms’ success. Employees participate in a three-day quality and food safety course. Each employee also receives external training, including statistical process control, hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) certification by the International HACCP Alliance, and food safety and sanitation training.
“Any success that we obtain is a direct reflection of our employees’ efforts,” Dr. White said. “We believe we foster a culture of quality people producing quality products. Without our employees, there can be no success.”
After implementing the new technology, Fieldale Farms saw improvements in measured performance indicators, including sanitation criteria, customer satisfaction, and plant efficiency. “Another benefit is reflected in improvements in process efficiencies as yield for premium products increases while minimizing quantity of second-quality products,” Dr. White said.
As a result of plant efficiency and product consistency, first quality or premium products have increased, while second quality products, or those with defects that must be sold at a lower price, have decreased by 2.14%. “As amount of first quality products increases, overall plant efficiency improves and process cost is reduced,” Fieldale Farms stated in its award application. “This is a direct result of the greater financial return of first quality products.”
One way Fieldale Farms determines the success of its investments in employee training and other sanitation measures is to measure the incidence of Listeria on processing equipment. From October through December 2008, Fieldale Farms had no incidences of Listeria on processing equipment, a result that demonstrates that ongoing employee training has revealed and eliminated more potential pathogen harborages.
Fieldale Farms also saw a significant decrease in sanitation noncompliances from 2007 to 2008—a 28.3% decrease in preoperational noncompliances and a 10.5% decrease in operational noncompliances. The company has also experienced improvements in microbial product and environmental results. Because of these improvements, the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service granted the company permission to run extended operations in other areas of the process, according to Dr. White.
Customer complaints, measured by number of complaints per 500,000 pounds sold, decreased from 0.56 for the top five customers in 2007 to 0.36 for the top five customers in 2008—an improvement of 35.7%. Some of Fieldale Farms’ customers have placed the company on a reduced audit or self-certified status, which has reduced costs for product sampling, distribution compliance audits, and external third-party audits. Customer satisfaction has also increased growth opportunities. In fact, the company saw a 7% increase in total pounds sold from 2007 to 2008. One customer increased pounds sold by 61%.
In the award application, Fieldale Farms wrote that the retained inventory decrease is a direct reflection of its quality assurance investments. Retained inventory costs money because it incurs a monthly cold storage facility fee, but Fieldale was able to decrease that cost by 36.9% from 2007 to 2008.
Another benefit derived from the newly implemented technology is that frozen products maintain quality attributes for up to a year from packaging in frozen storage. Sanitation procedure enhancements have expanded the window of time necessary to process raw material through portioning, marinating, freezing, and packaging
The investments made at Fieldale Farms benefit the environment as well. “Because the TSM and RevoPortioner reduce the process variation, they reduce the process waste and the byproducts from the process,” Dr. White said. “With the Volta belting, because it reduces the potential for bacteria harborage, it reduces our byproducts for sanitation chemicals and cost because it’s easier to clean than the other type of belting in the industry.”
In fact, according to the award submission, the use of Marel TSM machines reduced product waste by 8% for one product, which translates to a reduction of 36,000 pounds in potential waste. And the investment in the Stork RevoPortioner correlates to 0.5% a reduction in product waste—or 6,500 pounds. The company’s investment in a new breading applicator reduced bread waste by 50% and eliminated three to four pieces of equipment on the processing line, essentially reducing parts inventory and maintenance waste. A new cutting system, the Intellijet Water Cutter, reduced product waste percentage by 5%, and trim percentage improved from 35% to 29.6% after its installation.
Because the Volta belting is easy to clean, Fieldale Farms has been able to reduce water usage and time devoted to cleaning the belts. Water usage decreased from 1.23 to 1.37 gallons per pound produced in 2007 to 1.05 to 1.2 gallons per pound produced in 2008.
Fieldale Farms experienced the same challenges and obstacles that any company has when expanding and bringing in new technology. Employees required training to maintain and use the technology to its optimum benefit. Processes were scheduled to accommodate the expected learning curve, and Fieldale Farms employed a gradual implementation phase to overcome any inefficiencies that might result from inexperience with the technology.
In the end, said Dr. White, “basically, we saw an opportunity, and we took it.” “We don’t necessarily look at implementation as a challenge or obstacle but more so another opportunity to improve,” said Wikle. “Preplanning is the key to overcoming obstacles if and when they arise.”
So what can other companies learn from Fieldale Farms’ success? “As our customers’ needs change, we must continuously be ready to reinvest in our company and our facilities to meet our customers’ needs for quality and service,” Dr. White said.
Implementing the latest technology and being willing to invest where necessary have been key components to Fieldale Farms’ success, keeping the company one step ahead. And now they are winners.