Welcome to 'Field Notes'!
A Newsletter from the Food Safety, Consumer Protection (FSCP) Division of the Agency of Agriculture!
by Dr. Kristin Haas, FSCP Director
The month of March means different things to each of us in Vermont. It marks ice-out for many of our state's beautiful ponds and lakes, it is the peak of the maple sugaring season, and it holds the longer days and warming temperatures that allow us to plant cold-hardy veggie seeds. And this year, March marks a hopeful light at the end of the pandemic tunnel as COVID-19 vaccination administration in our state is in full swing.
For the public servants employed by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture's Food Safety and Consumer Protection (FSCP) Division, the end of March marks the close of another busy quarter of "essential business as usual". Throughout the pandemic, FSCP Division employees have continued to regulate, educate, assist and promote the sectors and businesses on which you depend. If you eat in Vermont, put gas in your car, shop at retail outlets, and/or depend on livestock or poultry for your livelihood, we are your "behind-the-scenes" people working to ensure safe food and fair markets for all Vermonters.
We are thrilled to share with you the inaugural edition of the quarterly FSCP Field Notes newsletter. Step inside each quarter to find out a bit more about the work we do and discover some of the businesses that we have helped along the way. We are pleased to play a role in their successes and look forward to sharing our stories with you!
by: Tucker Diego, Agricultural Products Manager, Agency of Agriculture
You may be surprised to learn that tasting syrup is an important part of the regulatory inspection, and it’s not just about checking to see if the syrup tastes good (even though it almost always does). Syrup must have a flavor profile that matches one of the four grades: Golden Delicate; Amber Rich; Dark Robust; Very Dark Strong. Tucker also checks for “off-flavors” that can indicate a more serious issue with the syrup. For example, a sour or musty flavor can mean the syrup is starting to ferment or is moldy. Chemical or plastic off-flavors can mean the syrup was contaminated during processing. There are natural off-flavors too, known as “buddy” and “metabolism” that can occur because of natural processes in the tree that are more common at the end of the sugaring season.
When he finds an issue, Tucker works closely with sugarmakers to explain the maple requirements and address the problem. In this way the maple inspection program helps to protect consumers and support Vermont’s reputation as a leader in the maple sector.
Tucker also serves as the Agency's only produce safety inspector and Country of Origin Labeling auditor. Stay tuned for information on those programs in future editions of FSCP Field Notes.
For more information about the Agency's maple regulatory program, click here.
Tucker Diego finishing up a routine maple products inspection
Inspecting Happy Bird Poultry with Food Safety Specialist Greg Cousino
Have you ever wondered how a state meat inspector spends the day? Here is a peek!
by: Joni Bales, Food Safety Specialist, Agency of Agriculture
Inspector Greg Cousino pulls his State of Vermont-issued Subaru into the parking lot of Happy Bird poultry farm shortly before 8:00 on a frigid February morning. He unloads his inspection gear and computer from the car and enters the on-site inspection office. Today is a slaughter day at Happy Bird, and Greg gets right down to business, so as not to delay the establishment's work. He locates Ember Boyle, who is performing a pre-operational sanitation inspection to ensure the facility and equipment are ready for the day, and her husband Stacey, who is checking in on the chickens corralled the evening before. Their adult son Frank is filling the chill tank with ice. Everyone dons their protective gear before beginning. For Inspector Cousino, this includes nonslip rubber boots, a white lab coat, a full-length plastic apron, a hard hat with a face shield attachment, a facemask, and wrist-length plastic gloves. When the Boyles, owners of this "mom-and-pop" business, declare they are ready to begin, Greg performs his own pre-operational inspection to verify the establishment is adhering to their Sanitation SOPs and their HAACP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) Plan. Stacey works on the "kill-side" of the operation (in a separate room), Frank performs the evisceration, and Ember is responsible for removing the crops, heads, and necks of the chickens. She also does a final check to make sure there is no contamination on the birds prior to them entering the chill tank. In this tiny 8’ X 9’ room with little room among all the equipment, Inspector Cousino stands between Frank and Ember and checks every bird for signs of disease or unwholesomeness. He also performs random checks for sanitation and other inspection tasks. These tasks will be documented in the afternoon in a dedicated computer program used by all state meat inspection personnel. On this day, the establishment is slaughtering 100 chickens.
Happy Bird is a business that evolved out of a hobby. Ember and Stacey raised and processed chickens for themselves, family, and friends for a few years before they decided to expand. The structure and infrastructure they built for this hobby needed remarkably little tweaking to become a state-inspected establishment; so in 2017, the Boyles decided to go for it. They wrote their HACCP plan and met other requirements necessary to come under state inspection. For Ember and Stacey, there was no looking back. “For us, the door it opened for sales is phenomenal," she said. Because they are under inspection, Happy Bird can legally sell chickens that have undergone further processing, including smoking and the production of sausages and other cuts such as chicken breasts and drumsticks. Since they sell the poultry in their own store, they have eliminated the middleman. The Boyles also like having the slaughter plant under their own control so that their birds continue to be raised and handled in a way that meets their own standards for sanitation and humane treatment. They have found that their community feels the same way, and their business has enjoyed annual growth. Happy Bird grew from processing about 650 birds in 2017 to 6400 in 2020. The local and personal nature and the expertise of the State of Vermont Meat Inspection Program has helped them succeed.
After the last carcass enters the ice-cold water to cool down, the Boyle family cleans the whole establishment together, and Greg retreats to the office to document his inspection in the computer. After lunch and once the chickens have been cooled to the temperature prescribed in Happy Bird’s HACCP plan, the Boyles proceed with packaging and labeling the chickens. Greg observes this process as well, noting that the state’s labeling requirements have been met and that the chickens are packaged in a sanitary environment to inhibit pathogenic bacterial growth. The chickens are now safe and legal to be sold whole or processed further in the Boyle's shop.
Ember, Stacey and Frank Boyle packaging Happy Bird poultry
Inspector Greg Cousino performing the required pre-operational inspection
You can read more about Happy Bird’s origin, story, and mission here.
by: Marc Paquette, Weights & Measures Chief, Agency of Agriculture
State and local jurisdictions throughout the country celebrate Weights and Measures Week annually in early March. Weights and Measures Week commemorates the signing of the first United States weights and measures law by President John Adams on March 2, 1799. The evolution of a uniform system of weights and measures has profoundly impacted society and government. The system provides uniformity and confidence in the marketplace for consumers and businesses. All participants in an economy are more likely to engage openly in trade if they are assured of fairness in transactions. Vermont's Weights and Measures program contributes greatly to economic development by promoting equity in the marketplace to all stakeholders.
The Agency of Agriculture's Weights and Measures specialists protect Vermonters by testing and inspecting commercial devices used in commerce. Each year the Vermont program inspects over 6,000 gas pumps, 425 fuel oil truck meters, 225 propane truck meters, and thousands of scales and packages. Inspectors conduct hundreds of retail price verification inspections, testing the accuracy of laser scanning systems in outlets including many grocery stores and pharmacies. They ensure that these devices are accurate, and they monitor pricing integrity and weighing and measuring practices where commercial transactions occur.
The Vermont Weights & Measures team also engages in "heavy duty" consumer protection and is celebrating its new Large Capacity Scale Truck which arrived in Vermont several months ago. This new vehicle will be used to test and inspect large capacity scales used in industry and service applications to further protect consumers. Weights and Measures inspectors test and inspect scales located at mines, feed plants, transfer stations, asphalt plants, recycling locations, and scrap metal yards. The scales tested are designed to weigh trucks, and the capacities may reach 200,000 lbs. Vermont's new Large Capacity Scale Truck is a state-of-the-art unit containing a calibrated 4,000 lb. weight cart which can hold 20,000 lbs. of certified weight. It is designed to meet all state, federal and industry testing specifications and requirements. The truck's testing unit has a hoist and the ability to carry and unload the weight cart and certified weights for each inspection. The Weights and Measures Metrology Laboratory has also expanded its scope of operation to include the calibration of weight carts giving the program total integration and traceability of all standards as well as test procedures.
Learn more about the Vermont Weights and Measures Program here.
by: EB Flory, Dairy Section Chief, Agency of Agriculture
AHFC, LLC was established in August 2020 by Karie Thompson Atherton and her husband Nick at their family dairy farm in Enosburg Falls, Vermont. While continuing to ship the balance of their milk to a large dairy milk handler, they have diverted enough milk to their own processing operation to achieve success in less than a year of operation. Karie and Nick recently ordered a second vat pasteurizer to make their current startup business more efficient and cost effective while satisfying the great local demand for their product. The Atherton family currently bottles and offers for sale creamline whole milk and flavored creamline whole milk in a variety of container sizes.
In October 2020, an organic dairy farm owned by Dr. Peter Miller and family, of Miller Farm in Vernon, Vermont, opened their organic family farmstead processing operation, Miller Milk, LLC. Their vision and hard work have paid off, and the Millers have realized the same local success the Athertons have in northern Vermont. The Millers recently ordered a second vat pasteurizing unit to keep up with the rapidly increasing product demand. Miller Milk, LLC has recently become a Grade A dairy plant, which will allow them to expand their customer base to nearby New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The Miller Milk facility is currently producing organic creamline whole milk and organic creamline flavored milk in a variety of container sizes and several flavors. The family and farm also played hosts for a Vermont Breakfast on the Farm virtual tour during the pandemic this year!Click here to watch the tour!
The Agency of Agriculture's Dairy Section taught these two experienced dairy farming families how to manufacture fluid milk during the most challenging times, ensuring that both began on solid footing and were able to make high-quality products from the start. The Dairy Section works closely with all new dairy businesses at the start of production and throughout operation to educate the owners and operators regarding the proper operation of pasteurizer equipment, required inhibitor testing, general sanitation practices and required paperwork, thereby ensuring the sustainability and flexibility of Vermont's dairy businesses. The Food Safety and Consumer Protection Division wishes these outstanding operations all the very best and continued success in their endeavors!
Need more information about dairy? Click here, scroll down a bit, and peruse the left margin subtopics for your area of interest.
Of Miller Milk, LLC. in Vernon, Vermont
Pigging Out with Animal Health
by: Dr. Kaitlynn Levine, Assistant State Veterinarian, Agency of Agriculture
The mission the team chose to accept was to make sure this herd did not have brucellosis. Brucellosis bacteria can reduce reproductive performance in pigs and other livestock and can cause in humans what was once called Undulant Fever, a vague collection of intermittent symptoms such as fever, aches and pains, fatigue, and occasional diarrhea. Thankfully, Vermont has been classified as brucellosis-free by the USDA. Despite Vermont's “free” status, pigs will occasionally return suspected positive on routine surveillance testing as was the case with two pigs from this herd. To ensure that this was a false positive, the rest of the breeding herd was tested.
Like every good livestock producer, this farmer knew the behavior and tendencies of his herd better than anyone and ensured that all pigs were in individual stalls and supplied a tasty treat of milk and grain to make up for any bad feelings they may have otherwise had. As expected, all of the tests came back negative.
The Agency's Animal Health team works hand in hand with USDA to maintain Vermont's disease-free status for brucellosis, tuberculosis and pseudorabies. Maintenance of this status through surveillance testing enables Vermont livestock owners to import and export livestock cost effectively and without completing the regulatory disease testing required of producers in other states. Ensuring the traceability of Vermont's livestock is another cornerstone of Vermont's animal health program, and we will be bringing you more information on that topic in upcoming editions of FSCP Field Notes.
Thanks for reading and see you in June 2021 for the next edition of FSCP Field Notes!
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