Q's About QA? Organic Valley Shares Food Safety Protocols

La Farge, Wis
March 30, 2009
Contact P.R. work 612.372.6465 La Farge, Wis

Organic Valley Family of Farms, the nation's largest cooperative of organic farmers and one of the nation's leading organic brands, today is sharing its quality assurance protocols as part of its Transparency initiative.

"Since we formed our farmer-owned cooperative more than 20 years ago, we have striven to provide our customers with the most nutritious and best tasting organic food that is produced under the strictest food safety standards," said George Siemon, one of the founding farmers and chief executive officer of Organic Valley. "That not only includes our Organic Valley dairy, eggs, soy and produce products, but also the ingredients we provide to foodservice businesses and other manufacturers who make baby food, yogurt and more. We take our responsibility to provide high quality products very seriously and know that safety and integrity in how we produce our food are essential to the optimum health of our consumers and the planet."

The farmer-owners of Organic Valley are very proud of their reputation for high quality products and have pioneered one of the strictest standards in the industry to ensure that high quality standards are upheld. They have a unique "premium and deduct program" in place, which significantly rewards or penalizes based upon level of quality. To ensure their standards are met, they have a farmer-led Work Improvement Program Committee that peer-reviews quality and has the privilege to suspend farm product pick-up, if necessary, until quality improvements are made. Each year, the Cooperative announces their quality award winners at their Annual Meeting in La Crosse, WI.

"We have a comprehensive quality assurance program in place that monitors quality throughout our product's life cycle—from the farm to the plate," added Louise Hemstead, one of the cooperative's dairy farmers and chief operating officer of Organic Valley. "We have always made our protocols available for review to any customer, producer, distributor or retailer who asks for it."

In an effort to make their food safety protocols as transparent as possible, Organic Valley is publishing a summary of its quality assurance program via this news release. In addition, they will post the following information on their online transparency Web page at www.organicvalley.coop/our-story/transparency.

Summary of Organic Valley's Quality Assurance Program

To achieve quality assurance, Organic Valley has a comprehensive program led by a team of 14 professionals that ensures its products are in compliance. Organic Valley's products are processed and packaged at their facilities and other co-processing plants throughout the nation. The facilities and co-processors are audited annually and inspected by their full-time Quality Auditor as well as a certified third-party auditing firm and USDA accredited organic certifier to ensure that they are compliant, or exceeding, governmental food safety, customer requirements, product and environmental testing, and any additional quality standards required by Organic Valley.

Organic Valley tests its raw materials for quality at the farm, monitors the trucking, and then tests again at the receiving destination. Once the raw materials arrive at the processing plant, Organic Valley's contracted co-processors perform tests including, but not limited to, microbial, analytical, sensory and environmental monitoring. In addition, its packaging materials held at the plants are monitored by Organic Valley staff to ensure top quality packaging.

When the processing facility has packaged a finished product, Organic Valley's logistics team coordinates and manages the transportation, storage and distribution, ensuring strict temperature parameters are enforced at the warehousing and trucking levels. The processing facility also retains samples from each product lot, which are reviewed as the product ages to ensure quality is maintained throughout the product's lifespan.

Upon arrival to the retail store shelf, Organic Valley's consumer relations staff monitors product quality. Each product package lists Organic Valley's toll-free number so consumers may quickly inform the Cooperative of any product concerns. The quality assurance team then investigates and provides responses to consumers. Organic Valley uses this data to track plant performance and product integrity, as well as work toward its goal of continual improvement on all levels of production. Each year, Organic Valley uses their consumer complaint benchmarks to set goals for improvement, and their success is reflected in a 30% reduction in consumer product calls.

Details on Organic Valley's Quality Assurance Program

Sampling Program: For each product category, Organic Valley requires their co-processing plants to sample, review, verify Certificate of Analysis and/or test all raw material lots. These plants sample, retain and test finished product along the production process to ensure that it is free of contamination. Microbiological testing is a must, among other analytical tests performed on each lot of product produced.

Positive Release Program: Organic Valley's positive release program outlines its quality efforts to ensure that every product sold has been tested safe and meets Organic Valley's premium quality standards. All products are placed on mandatory hold with the exception of pasteurized milk. This means that no Organic Valley product ships to customers until the quality assurance team reviews the results and releases the products. For the pasteurized milk category, Organic Valley has a tracking system in place which allows the Cooperative to quickly retrieve the milk in the event that a deviation is found after shipping.

Pathogen Testing: Organic Valley has an extensive network of environmental testing for pathogens, primarily Listeria, Salmonella and E.coli, in its co-processing plants and its own facilities. Organic Valley also tests raw eggs for salmonella and avian influenza to further ensure excellent quality. Its finished pasteurized egg products are all tested for pathogens prior to being released. In addition, by request, randomly or due to concerns, Organic Valley can employ finished product pathogen tests while the product is still within its possession.

Third Party Lab Work: While routine testing is completed in labs at Organic Valley plants and co-processors, the Cooperative routinely tests its finished products for validation of Certificate of Analysis. This may be done at Organic Valley's in-house corporate lab in La Farge, Wis., or at a third-party independent lab.

Independent Audits: Organic Valley employs independent, third-party auditors to audit and assess its plants and co-processors to ensure they have all the programs and documentation to support their food safety programs. These audits are typically one to two days, in which the auditor reviews the physical layout for sanitation and hygiene, as well as all the documentation that supports the critical food safety points.

Organic Certification Audits: The USDA requires product traceability for every organic product, from raw material throughout its entire production process and its ultimate distribution to grocers. (This traceability documentation is not required for most conventional products.) Organic Valley farmers, producers and distributors comply with all documentation requirements.

Organoleptic/Shelf Life Testing: Organoleptic refers to Organic Valley's practice of tasting the produced product to determine if it meets the selected flavor profile. Organic Valley maintains archives of every lot of its ready-to-eat products. During this process, Organic Valley also can validate that the product is indeed good until it reaches or exceeds the expiration date printed on the product. This information is also used for product improvement, packaging review and lab testing at the end of shelf life.

Benchmarks: Organic Valley routinely performs sensory comparisons and testing against national competitor brands to ensure it is meeting or exceeding competitor quality standards. In addition, it has internal quality performance measurements kept each month to be reviewed by senior management for compliance with Organic Valley's quality goals.

Product Recall: Organic Valley employs a product recall and traceability plan. It routinely performs mock recalls throughout the year to test its internal and external systems for product accountability and retrieval. This is a required element of its Quality Assurance Program/Food Safety/HACCP Plan as well as its organic certification.

Vendor Ingredients Policy: Organic Valley reviews, researches and approves all ingredients used in its products to ensure they are certified organic products. It reviews performance, flavor, and microbial specifications prior to usage. Organic Valley requires all ingredients to arrive at production facilities with a certificate of analysis to validate it has the correct product and meets the USDA's organic standards.

Consumer Complaints per Unit Program: Organic Valley has a real-time complaint tracking system that enables the Cooperative to view all related complaints the moment they are received. This technology allows them to immediately identify any products that have complaints and to track how many and exactly what they are. Each day, their quality assurance staff receives email bulletins alerting them to any product the Cooperative needs to observe. The data is assessed against production volume. The QA staff shares this information with its internal operations staff as well as the co-processors and packaging vendors to continually strive to eliminate complaints.

Compliance with Pasteurized Milk Ordinance: Organic Valley meets and exceeds all directives presented in the FDA's Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO), which can be found at www.cfsan.fda.gov/~ear/pmo03toc.html. According to the FDA, "the Grade 'A' PMO is incorporated by reference in federal specifications for procurement of milk and milk products; is used as the sanitary regulation for milk and milk products served on interstate carriers; and is recognized by the Public Health Agencies, the milk industry, and many others as the national standard for milk sanitation. The Grade 'A' PMO adopted and uniformly applied will continue to provide effective public health protection without being unduly burdensome to either regulatory agencies or the dairy industry. It represents a 'grass-roots' consensus of current knowledge and experiences and as such represents a practical and equitable milk sanitation standard for the nation."

Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points (HACCP): Organic Valley requires this FDA assessment program in its plants in order to conduct risk-assessment and management of any critical process points that have the potential to create a food safety concern.

For questions about Organic Valley's quality assurance program, please call 1-888-444-MILK.

Organic Valley Family of Farms: Independent and Farmer-Owned

Organic Valley is America’s largest cooperative of organic farmers and is one of the nation’s leading organic brands. Organized in 1988, it represents 1,332 farmers in 32 states and one Canadian province, and achieved $527.8 million in 2008 sales. Focused on its founding mission of saving family farms through organic farming, Organic Valley produces a variety of organic foods, including organic milk, soy, cheese, butter, spreads, creams, eggs, produce and juice, which are sold in supermarkets, natural foods stores and food cooperatives nationwide. The same farmers who produce for Organic Valley also produce a full range of delicious organic meat under the Organic Prairie Family of Farms label. For further information, call 1-888-444-MILK or visit www.organicvalley.coop, www.organicprairie.coop and the cooperative’s farmer website, www.farmers.coop. Organic Valley is also on Twitter, www.twitter.com/organicvalley and Facebook, www.facebook.com/pages/Organic-Valley/20674850824.

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