Breath. Its something I think we all need to remind ourselves currently. What an unknown time we are in. The reason our little crew of farmers up at HOFC chose this career path was to help build a more resilient food system and to provide our community with local, nutrient dense food. It’s long hours for far below minimum wage but it’s become part of who we are and has some very great perks; this mornings milking with my little herd, in my favorite paddock had me feeling more fulfillment and love than I could ever ask for.
But s**t got real! It’s no longer a sexy tag line of community resilience, it’s time to stand up and prove it’s worth. Every week at the farmers market it gets a little slower, more pre-orders, stricter rules, new locations and space set up, but our customers seem to get it more than ever. From the Coop here we are providing food to at least 200 households within the Castlemaine region as well as offering employment to 6+ casual staff. We take our role very seriously.
For industries like dairy processing many of these strict hygiene protocols are an everyday undertaking already. Our factories are always on lockdown from the outside, invisible, potentially fatal risks. Good food safety is not about ticking boxes for compliance, it’s about understanding risks and mitigating them.
My 77 page Food Safety Program is a rather dry document that sets out the rules which together Dairy Food Safety Victoria and I have created for my business.
The first section is the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) plan for each product. Going through the steps involved: collection/receival of raw milk, pasteurisation, chill, packaging, refrigerated storage and the dispatch/transport/sales, we break apart all the potential risks and their severity to the food safety of the product. We then work through responses to make sure they are all risks are recognised and rectified before the customer opens that bottle. Being able to foresee problems and avoid them is probably a key to all successful businesses.
The second section is the SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) for the running of the dairy. This helps in training staff and making sure everyone is on the same page as to what is required and in what order. I have 16 SOP’s for the factory side of the business, from general hygiene, bottle and equipment washing, to food recalls and microbial testing schedules. Then there are 9 SOP’s for the farm side of the business, from the dairy milking to animal traceability. It has been invaluable writing these SOP’s for me to really think through best practice and efficient hand overs.
In the bottled milk world my two main risks are baterial; E.Coli – which is found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organism, which surrounds me outside in cow manure, and Listeria monocytogenes which can be found in soil, water, vegetation and the faeces of some animals and loves moist environments such as drains when introduced. The latter is the reason pregnant women are advised against eating cheeses with a high moisture content.
Entering this time of the Coronaviris pandemic, I have been able to adapt many of my dairy production protocols for the outside world. Where possible, opening doors with my little finger or elbow. I play a game of interrogation with my hands; ‘and where have you been between scratching the cows and opening the door’. I keep a mental record of everything I’ve touched and what may have touched that before. I wash my hands before starting or recommencing handling of food or clean packaging or equipment intended for food. I treat gloves as hands when it comes to hand washing and I catagorise things as clean or dirty.
Back on the farm things are going well. My version of panic buying has been pallets of bottles and semi loads of hay. I now should be set for most supplies for 6 months if I need to bunker down.
We had a rough few weeks after Berta calved with Otis (Reading). Then 4 weeks later Berta became a grandmother with Iggy having a very non eventful calving 10 days early with Patti (Smith).
I’m now milking 6 and so grateful that I get to spend these difficult times hanging out with these girls, with ample space, clean air, water and access to food produced by people who farm for reasons far beyond a job.