Food Safety from Farm to Table | America's Cultivation Corridor
Warning! Your browser is extremely outdated and not web standards compliant.
Your browsing experience would greatly improve by upgrading to a modern browser.

Food safety from farm to table

The safety of our nation’s food supply is something that many Americans take for granted. It is easy to overlook the technologies, commitment and focus at every step in the food chain that keeps our food supply safe.

Iowa-based producers, researchers and companies are leading the way with new ideas and technologies to ensure an even safer food system in the future.

That shouldn’t be a surprise. In addition to being the leading producer of pork, eggs, corn and top ten for other ag commodities, some of the biggest names in grain and meat processing have Iowa facilities, and 29 of the largest 100 food manufacturers and processors having a location in the state. This expertise combined with cutting-edge research at every phase of crop, animal and food production continues to raise the bar on food safety to benefit Iowans and the world.

On the farm

The focus on continuous improvement starts at the farm, with research and new technologies driving how pigs are housed and cared for.

“Producing safe, healthy food is the foundation of our business as pig farmers,” said Kevin Rasmussen, owner of Owl Lake Production Company in Humboldt County, Iowa. “Taking care of our pigs, focusing on animal comfort, and giving them a safe and healthy environment is a responsibility we take very seriously, not just because it is critical to our livelihoods, but because it is the right thing to do.”

Modern pork production facilities of all sizes provide animals with an environment designed especially for them to keep them safe, healthy and comfortable. Recent technological advances in the industry include automated individual feedings for pigs, temperature and environment control and sensors that can be placed on pigs. Iowa-based startups like Farr Pro, Distynct and Barn Tools are leading the way in new solutions, and their Iowa locations provide ample opportunity for testing and feedback from pork producers.  

The Iowa Pork Industry Center at Iowa State University is a leading resource for producers, with 60 faculty and staff programs across departments and colleges at the university serving the educational and informational needs of the pork industry, including veterinary medicine, animal sciences, economics and agricultural engineering. Swine extension field specialists and engineering field specialists throughout the state create research-based resources so pork producers receive accurate and timely information to aid in making their operations more efficient and profitable.

The Pork Quality Assurance® Plus (PQA Plus®) program also provides a framework for significant, relevant food safety standards and improved animal well-being. Producers, their employees and industry professionals are certified after training and tests, then must re-certify every three years. PQA Plus is regularly revised to increase its effectiveness, incorporate new research information and ensure the program’s validity.

Protecting the harvest

Iowa’s corn and soybean farmers also play a key role in protecting the food supply by preserving the quality of harvested grain for food, feed, fuel and other uses. Effective storage protects grain from pests and weather. Fans and drying systems extract moisture that can cause spoilage or degradation.   

For more than 60 years, Sukup Manufacturing Co. has helped farmers protect the quality of their harvest for food, feed, and other uses. Eugene Sukup developed the Stirway stirring machine as a way to keep grain from spoiling in bins and founded Sukup Manufacturing Co. in 1963. Today, the Sheffield-Iowa based company has grown to be the world’s largest family-owned and operated manufacturer of grain storage, drying and handling equipment. 

Matt Koch, Sukup’s chief marketing officer, says the company consistently develops powerful technology solutions to meet the ever-changing needs of producers, ethanol facilities, food processors, feed mills and more.

“We want to bring the customer’s peace of mind and quality of life through improved functions and software. That has led to solutions like QuadraTouch Pro, a mobile app, sweeps systems, and bin controls,” he said. In December of 2023, Sukup acquired West Des Moines-based Ramco Innovations, a value – add automation distributor. Together they will further the mission of innovation on the farm. 

Designed for safety

The design of a facility has an impact on food safety in many ways, said Brian Gjerde, Food + Industrial Business unit Leader, ISG. ISG is a multi-disciplinary architecture and engineering firm with 14 offices spanning five states. With three locations in Iowa, ISG has worked with food processing companies of all sizes to implement the latest technologies, management practices to maximize food safety and quality.

Facility design starts with careful segregation of raw, cooked, pasteurized and processed products, and extends through thoughtful traffic patterns. Safe separation can be achieved through personnel routing pathways, distinct flow for product to and from product lines, controlled air flow with room pressurization and separate HVAC systems, and by-products and waste removal to avoid cross contamination with finished products.

Sustainability and conservation of natural resources is also a key factor in facility design.

“We have worked to minimize energy use, in electrical or gas use through high efficiency motors, or lighting, heat recovery or heat exchange systems.  Water utilization is a key challenge faced by most of our clients,” said Gjerde. “ISG has professionals who focus on water minimization strategies and water reuse systems for food processing clients to help them lessen their impacts on the environment.”

Food safety will require increasing collaboration throughout the food system, as traceability becomes more critical.

“The entire food supply chain is integrated to track inputs from incoming ingredients through distribution. All manufacturers maintain a very robust traceability and recall system to identify the origin of all ingredients and packaging supplies, including distribution for up to three years past expiration,” said Gjerde. “With modern technology, the traceability systems continue to become more and more accurate and complex. Suppliers can trace individual animals, fields or minute details that were very difficult with older manual or paper trail systems.”

Quality ingredients

A focus on quality and innovation drives Kent Corporation to make food and nutritional ingredients for humans and animals across its diversified family of companies, including canning and pickling ingredients sold in grocery stores to hydration products, pet food, livestock feed and more.

The nearly 100-year-old company includes Grain Processing Corporation (GPC), which crafts innovative corn and legume-based products for customers worldwide, and Kent Precision Foods Group, which provides high-quality branded and custom products for customers in the food service, industrial and consumer products businesses. Brands include Foothill Farms®, Frostline®, Mrs. Wages®, Orrington Farms®, Thick-It®, Sqwincher®, PKLfreeze™, Milani® and other licensed products.

Innovative technologies are allowing more precision in detecting potential issues and tracking products throughout the food system.

The challenge of keeping our nation’s food supply safe requires collaboration, innovation and commitment at every step of the food chain. With universities, global brands, regional leaders and startups all working toward the same goal, and a 129% higher concentration of food scientists than the national average, the next generation of technologies that will make our food supply safer, more efficient and more sustainable is being developed in Iowa.

Published June 2024.

Corridor News