Strengthening farmstead cheese businesses through risk assessment, reduction, monitoring, testing, and technical support
From milk through finished cheese, this project will research, develop, and pilot test a product safety risk reduction program for farmstead cheesemakers and convert the added-value of program participation into a marketing advantage. Producers will assess the impact of the program on their business and research the feasibility of forming an organization to make the program self-sustaining. If found to be viable, the project will result in a regional technical assistance, testing and marketing association. The project takes work by the region’s universities to help farmstead cheesemakers develop Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) food safety plans, to the next level: a formal system for monitoring plans, independent verification through testing, with results going to the farm and a technical advisor, and assistance for corrective action if needed. The project adapts the well-established European Union (EU) Directives for risk reduction to New England/NY. The project’s technical advisor will work with cheesemakers in an on-farm pilot to not only develop, but monitor and verify HACCP plans by testing for microbiological contaminants and help the farm work through any problems surfaced by testing. Because these extra steps will cost producers more money, the project will conduct business planning for a formal association that can provide technical assistance, testing services and also undertake marketing and promotional efforts targeted at wholesale and retail buyers to return the added value of the program to producers who adopt a verifiable risk reduction regime as part of their operations
Of the 100 farmers who participate in one of three Farmstead Cheese Safety Risk Reduction Seminars, 20 will join the New England/NY Farmstead Cheese Pilot Program. Of these, fifteen will adopt the risk assessment, monitoring and testing systems developed by the pilot program as a permanent feature of their operation and will form the core of a regional cheesemakers association to provide on going technical assistance, testing and marketing services to members. These farms will take this action because the program 1) produced a quantifiable increase in the profitability of their operations, over and above its cost, by the prevention of the loss of at least one batch of cheese and/ or by retaining or adding or expanding a market outlet and 2) made the cheesemakers feel more secure, more positive and less anxious about the future of their industry.
100 cheese producers will attend one of three seminars on farmstead cheese safety risk reduction to learn how to use HACCP risk analysis and planning to reduce potential for pathogen contamination of their products. Verified by attendance records and workshop evaluations.
20 farmers will see the value of going one step further and enter into a pilot program to verify through testing the effectiveness of their HACCP plans and work together to plan a self-sustaining association to carry on the program. Verified by producer participation and on-going evaluation of the pilot. A pre-pilot survey will gather baseline data on the farm’s current sanitation practices, numbers of batches, pounds per batch, annual pounds of cheese produced each year, for past 3 years, and market value along with an estimate of number of batches (pounds) lost per year and estimated cost of the loss (time, materials, sales) and why, industry and marketing concerns related to product safety issues, and perceptions about quality assurance and risk reduction, e.g., if they need more training and assistance.
15 farms will determine that the program should become a permanent part of their operations. Verified by producer participation in a formal evaluation of the pilot to include a post-pilot survey to assess the farm’s experience with new sanitation practices, training in HACCP planning, testing facilitation and technical assistance in monitoring the test results. Farms will report numbers of batches, pounds per batch of cheese produced under the pilot regime, and number of batches (pounds) lost for comparison to the post – pilot benchmark data. Farms will provide an estimate of savings and/or additional income and profits received due to program participation, to be compared with costs of the program. Farms will be queried on industry and marketing concerns related to safety issues. In sum, a thorough assessment of benefits eg. increased numbers/pounds of successful batches, access to markets greater confidence in cheesemaking, safety risk reduction benefits, quality control improvements, etc. and costs eg. time, changes in facilities, equipment, testing, etc. will be made to document and quantify improved profitability, quality of life and preparation for the future.
15 farmers will institutionalize milk and cheese risk management planning and testing into a New England/NY certification, technical assistance and marketing association and seek the participation of other cheesemakers in the association by sharing their experiences, benefit/cost analysis (as documented above) and the business feasibility study at a series of regional cheese safety seminars. Verified by business feasibility planning, producer participation and decision-making.
Project is just getting underway. To ensure participation across the region, we decided to do four seminars rather than three. Seminars have been scheduled for late January though March in CT (includes NH, MA, VT), NY, VT (includes NH, MA) and ME. Cheesemaker groups are involved in setting up meetings; project goals have met an enthusiastic response.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Project is just getting underway. No outcomes to report as yet.