Gilroy, Calif.—Jeff Stokes, director of sales at Christopher Ranch LLC, knows independent foodservice operators are deluged with business demands and rely on food producers and food manufacturers to protect their products from contamination, and to ensure the stability, safety, and product tracking of those same products from field to plate.
Because he is a food manufacturer, he deals with restaurant chains and broad line distributors with higher stakes riding on food purity and consistency. As a condition of doing business, says Stokes, “They demand rigorously enforced product safety practices from Christopher Ranch, requiring in-depth plant audits to ensure quality and safety protocols are strictly followed.” When Primus Labs, a leading quality assurance auditor, sends inspectors to the Christopher Ranch production facilities, they investigate and evaluate the status of 212 separate quality assurance items. Then, Primus returns weekly to conduct spot checks to assure Christopher Ranch’s ongoing observance of QA guidelines.
So, if all operators bought all their goods and services from a domestic supplier like Christopher Ranch, product safety concerns would be a moot point. “Unfortunately,” allows Stokes, “these same standards do not apply to the glut of imported food products that are entering the US from China and other
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unmonitored countries. Operators purchasing imported products that do not have U.S. government-mandated safeguards and assurances risk customer safety.”
Due to high profile product recalls and well-publicized tales of tainted products, Chinese foods rank among the most dubious imports. (In the U.S., product-tracking capability will be required for all consumer foods by 2010, and the protocols are already in place. ) In a recent article in the Los Angeles Times*, reporter Joshua Frank notes that even inside China, where more consumers are looking for safe, reliable produce, they can’t trust low-pesticide or organic labels. Terry Yu, an owner of six health food stores explains. “”The biggest problem in the Chinese food industry,” Yu says, “is that customers don’t trust the chain, and the chain doesn’t trust its supplier—no one trusts anyone.” Franks does his reporting from a small organic farm near Beijing and notes the plot’s dissimilarity to Chinese production norms. “Unlike most farms in China, no heaps of blackened sewage sludge are piled on the fields at the Green Cow farm. No workers spray pesticides from pumps strapped to their backs. No animals are in quarantine.”
Eric Kraus, Sales Manager for Christopher Ranch, traveled to China to view the peeling and packing process for the company. “I saw garlic peeled by hand in warehouses with no temperature controls, and not every worker wore masks and gloves.” Even more alarming, says Kraus, is the total absence of product accountability. “The Chinese can’t track a product lot back to the field where it was harvested or to the crew that peeled it. In China, each small farmer co-mingles his garlic with product from other small farms at the packing plant. The processing plant doesn’t track or monitor who worked and when.“ Quoted in Frank’s Los Angeles Times article, Beijing restaurateur Lejen Chen echoes Kraus’ observations. “The problem [in China] is making sure that farmers stick to those [organic] standards, and ensuring that there are enough authorities to adequately monitor producers who claim their food is organic—a tall order in a
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country where toxic, heavy-metal-filled sewage sludge is the cheapest, most easily accessible fertilizer around.”
Kraus made other observations during his visit that are equally worrying:
• The Chinese spray the garlic with a chemical wash (most likely to give the product the appearance of greater freshness); a worker stands in a trough with the garlic and applies the chemical with a hose.
• When asked to supply kosher garlic, one Chinese packer requested the label language and announced delivery was “no problem.” When asked how he would accomplish kosher certification, he replied, ” Who needs to know?”
• Although U.S. private label distributors go to extreme measures to ensure safety of “house” products, any of their individual affiliates can and do sell Chinese food products without similar product integrity guarantees.
• Major restaurant chains will specify domestic [Christopher Ranch] peeled garlic for their use in their restaurants, but will allow co-packers to use imported garlic in the prepared products they purchase from them.
A Simple Solution to Food Safety
Christopher Ranch, the primary supplier of domestically grown, fresh, peeled garlic, has its product and facilities that are annually evaluated by the top U.S. auditing firms: Primus Labs, Silliker, Inc. and Cook & Thurber. As each potential customer specifies a minimum safe practices score before they certify the supplier. Out of a possible 1439 points, some customers require a score of 90% or more.
To maintain its solid reputation with customers, Christopher Ranch is dedicated to keeping top ratings. In the most recent Primus audit, Christopher Ranch scored an overall 96%; its food security score was 100%. According to Primus evaluation scores, a rating of 95-100% recognized as superior. More important, Christopher Ranch has never failed any audit required by the dozens of high volume foodservice customers it serves, including the private label packing it does for major distribution houses. Equally important, in 2008,
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Christopher Ranch spent $880,000 for QA, plant maintenance and employee safety initiatives.
For more information about domestically and sustainably produced Christopher Ranch California Heirloom Garlic—All garlic is not created equal”™—visit christopherranch.com, or speak to a Christopher Ranch sales representative at 800-321-9333.
About Christopher Ranch LLC
As the nation’s largest domestic garlic grower/packer, Christopher Ranch has a 50-year tradition of supplying the finest garlic products to retail and foodservice customers, shipping over 60 million pounds each year. Christopher Ranch produces the only commercially grown Heirloom garlic in the United States.