Tony Wesner, chief operating officer of Rose Acre Farms, has openly shared the story of an egg recall from Rose Acre's Hyde County, North Carolina, facility due to potential contamination with Salmonella Braenderup.
Recently, WATT Global Media sat down with Wesner to discuss updates and changes Rose Acre has made to the facility to minimize the risk of another recall. At the time of the visit, the facility was two-thirds of the way repopulated and expected to be back to full capacity by the end of 2019, with most of the eggs still being sold to retailers.
After the recall, Wesner said, “We have to look at things differently.”
He said the company had to step back and evaluate everything it was doing and what it needed to change to meet the standards for food companies in the future.
"Grading rooms are going to have to look like ready-to-eat plants," he said.
Although it's not feasible for every egg grading plant in the country to rebuild, Wesner said it is important for them to analyze what they have and figure out what they can do to make improvements.
Division of the facility
The Hyde County egg grading and packing facility is divided into three rooms, or sections. The first room receives the eggs from the layer houses on a conveyor before the eggs proceed to two consecutive egg washers. Before eggs are conveyed into the next room, any broken eggs are discarded.
In the second room, eggs are dried, inspected and graded. At this stage, clean eggs proceed to the packing lines and any dirty eggs are diverted back to be rewashed.
In the third room, the packed eggs are palletized and moved into the cooler prior to being shipped. To minimize cross-trafficking among the various “rooms” during production time, especially forklift traffic, packing materials are staged in the second room prior to shift startup and, if needed, packing materials will be restocked at lunch break.
Rose Acre additionally built a wall separating egg receiving and washing processes from the egg grading and packing room. Rose Acre’s goal was to make the egg packing area as much of a sanctuary as it could and to be as clean as possible before packaging the product and putting it into customers’ hands.
Further facility updates
During the government’s testing at the Hyde County facility, Salmonella Braenderup was not found in a food contact area. However, there was a handful of positive results in other non-food contact areas of the facility, such as the floor and inedible egg area. As a result, Rose Acre has removed the inedible egg area from the processing room.
"We are trying to do that at all our other plants, too," he said.
Summers are very hot and humid in eastern North Carolina. Like most facilities, the Hyde County location’s air conditioning system was sized for average conditions, not for the hottest and most humid day of the summer. This meant there could be condensation problems at times.
"We did (have good control) most of the year, but in mid-summer it would have a wet feel and high humidity so we put a bunch of (new) equipment in, including dehumidification and refrigeration units, so that we are running at about 75 degrees now even with humidity at 50% to 55%, and that can be monitored around the clock even from my laptop at home," Wesner said.
Controlling humidity and temperature is something Wesner believes will help control unwanted issues within the room.
To ensure there is no condensation in the egg packaging area, even on the most humid days, additional cooling capacity and a dehumidification system were added. (Terrence O’Keefe)
Concrete floors and concrete curbs on the walls were resurfaced to seal the exposed concrete. Wesner said the regular concrete is porous and poses a risk that bacteria could exist in the pores of the concrete and that the floors need to be prepped properly for the sealant to adhere.
"We still have to use water at night during sanitation to get the grading machine ready for the next day, so what we have done there, and in all of our 18 plants, is we have doubled the size of our sanitation crew without running the machine," he said.
Drains have not been an issue, but Wesner credited that to a good sanitation crew that is diligent in swabbing those areas and making sure adenosine triphosphate testing (ATP) counts are within an ideal range.
Wesner said there is no magic template to prepare for all the considerations associated with food safety; it is a sum of a lot of things, and companies need to remain observant and diligent.
"This is the pilot plant of some of our changes, and I'm sure there will be more after this," he said.
At this time, all the conveyors from the chicken house up to the processing facility are maintained the way they were before.
"We have experimented with some UV light units; we are not done there. We are considering different ways to possibly sanitize the conveyor belts; we have not landed, however, on what method to use yet," Wesner said.
All vehicles entering the Hyde County complex go through an automatic truck wash. People use a Danish entry into the egg processing building and change shoes; visitors put on shoe covers. Rose Acre is also exploring implementing a shower-in system at Hyde County.
All vehicles entering the egg farm and egg packing complex must go through a vehicle wash after signing in at the guard post. (Terrence O'Keefe)
To help Rose Acres combat some of its issues, Moba created a new system, the Multi Outlet, which works on the PX700 machines.
“The brand-new Multi Outlet removes dirty eggs in the earliest possible stage of the process," said Bill Bretschneider, product manager with Moba. "After the eggs are washed, this system removes leakers and dirty eggs directly from the orientation device (the Multi Drum) before the clean eggs pass to the next roller section. The removed eggs can be sent back to be rewashed using a conveyor leading back to the accumulator. The eggs use a short loop, even with high-capacity machines, and the movement of leaking and dirty eggs is kept to a very limited area. Product flow structures are optimized and the risk of cross-contamination is reduced significantly. None of the traditional methods used in the industry allows separation before egg drying and traveling further on the in-feed toward the grader. The Multi Outlet is available as an optional feature on all new Omnia PX line of graders.”
“Furthermore, on the Omnia PX graders, all egg touching parts are disinfected during production and go through CIP (clean in place) or COP (clean out of place) after production,” Bretschneider said.
In theory, this unit was designed to take the dirty eggs out of the in-feed before they get to the clean room.
These equipment modifications, which remove dirty and cracked eggs earlier, result in a food safety gain, Wesner added.
Employee shifts and expectations
The Hyde County facility packs all eggs on one shift.
"Two (packing) shifts does a couple of things to an operation. In my opinion, the second shift is hard to manage and has more turnover. You leave eggs laying in a chicken house longer than they should and then you end up with more loss and more cracks," Wesner said.
Rose Acre Farms used to size its case packing and grading equipment to do all the farm's eggs in eight hours. Now, with added capacity, it can get employees out without overtime if there are any hiccups during the day. Employees like having reliable work hours instead of having to work late unexpectedly.
At some of Rose Acre’s farms, there have been schedule adaptions to, for example, start sanitation while the day crew is still on-site. This creates an understanding of the role of each shift and allows each shift to work to help the other because what one shift does affects the other shift’s next day.
"Sanitation night manager is one of the key roles here. If they are not being brought into the picture and made part of the team, then you're not going to get the results you're looking for," Wesner said.
As companies work to improve animal welfare, food safety and employee safety cultures at any location, employee retention becomes even more important. With the changes made to facilities and processes, companies must keep the impact to the worker in mind, Wesner said.
Management should consider questions like:
- Are the shower facilities nice and clean? Do employees have the privacy they want?
- Has management communicated that food safety, employee safety and animal welfare are a priority?
"Yes, we want to get all the eggs packed, but they have to be done the right way," Wesner said.