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Under the microscope: surviving our first third party food safety audit

Farm News

Over the past few months, we have been preparing for our cheese plant’s very first 3rd-party food safety audit. While we have been inspected routinely by our state’s Department of Public Health since our inception, and occasionally by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), a third-party audit is regulatory compliance on steroids.

I have always maintained our little creamery with the most stringent of cleanliness and food safety standards. I have always believed that a pristine cheese plant and staff that embrace cleaning go hand in hand with producing amazing quality cheese. Yet, we are tiny relative to our peers in the artisan and specialty cheese world, and our food safety management“ team” currently consists of me, myself and I. I have been quietly following the trends of creameries like ours preparing for an audit, knowing that the paperwork, testing and documentation required would be a sea change in our daily operations. Despite my reluctance and foot dragging over the past few years, the reality is that our bigger wholesale customers now require such an audit for us to continue to do business with them.

So, I engaged the services of an auditor, and we began to get the creamery ready a little less than two months ago. He sent me the detailed outline of all the categories for which we would be inspected, and we set to work on our game plan. We repaired the walls, doors and floors needing serious TLC, we installed better lighting, we sealed holes that didn’t need to exist, we replaced all the rusty castors, and we deep cleaned the entire plant from top to bottom. We weed wacked the perimeter of our facility and removed any debris that could potentially harbor pests. With the help of our tech savvy Sophie, I revamped our food safety plan, I updated our “good manufacturing practices” and added a mountain of check lists and worksheets so we could demonstrate to the auditor that we were or would be compliant.

The night before the audit, I finalized the paperwork and printed out a set of documents thicker than my Ph.D. dissertation (and that was over 400 pages 30 years ago!!). The auditor arrived promptly at 8 am yesterday morning from Madison Wisconsin. He toured the facility, both outside and inside, and then we settled into the arduous tasks of reviewing the documentation. After nearly five hours, he tallied up the points we received for each of the sections of the audit. We received a passing score. During the review, he remarked several times that we were doing quite well, despite this being our first audit. Of course, we have deficits for which we will have to comply, and of course we must now maintain all of the procedures and documents to remain compliant. As he rose from the table to put on his coat, he turned to me and said “I know you make safe cheese here,” a simple yet profound statement.

Farm Happenings

Don’t forget: Goaty Halloween is Happening this Sunday Oct. 30th!

Sunday October 30th, 1-4 pm.

  • Goats in Costume!

  • Guests in costume taking pictures with the goats in costume!

  • Pumpkin Decorating!

  • Hayrides (weather permitting) !

  • Spooky Sorghum Meander!

  • Hot Apple Cider (with-for adults or without alcohol -for the kids)!

  • Pumpkin and Paw Paw Gelato!

No reservations required. Parking will be in the big lot on south side of the farm. Events including the hayride and pumpkin decorating will require purchasing tickets in the farm store. We won’t be serving cheese & wine flights or cheese boards that afternoon, but we have a couple of very yummy and very fall-centric chevre & accompaniments “boats” for sale. The weather forecast is for showers in the morning, BUT, most of our events are either indoors or under cover (except the hayrides). Come in costume. This annual PFFC tradition is NOT to be missed!

Delight Flower Farm Returns to Prairie Fruits for Holiday Wreath Making

Our flower friends at Delight Flower Farm will be hosting a variety of wreath making workshops around the area in November and December. We are hosting them on Thursday, December 1st. It’s a super fun time! They bring all the materials you need to craft a unique and gorgeous wreath to take home. We provide wine, beer, cider and non-alcoholic beverages as well as cheese plates to nibble on while you build your wreath. For details and ticket purchases, check out their links: Facebook event and for purchasing Tickets.

Wine and Cheese on the Farm? Yes please!

NOTE: For this weekend, we’re only offering flights on Saturday, the 29th. We are one of the few places in Champaign-Urbana where you can get a curated wine and cheese flight. We carry some great organic and/or bio