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WP Griffin installs full traceback system

Food safety has become a watchword in today's marketplace, but putting a quality product on the store shelves doesn't happen by accident.

For WP Griffin Inc. in Elmsdale, it has meant the installation of a quality control system that allows them to trace back every step along the food chain from the farmer's field to the consumer's table. With funding help from the P.E.I. ADAPT Council (which administers the Canadian Adaptation and Rural Development Fund in the province) the company instituted changes in its packing line in late 2002.

Company president John Griffin said both the consumer and large retail chains are now beginning to insist on a trace back mechanism for all food products.

"Our company prides itself on offering a safe, clean, superior product," Griffin said.

The company packages products in both plastic and paper bags, and each requires a different labelling system. For the plastic bags, two label printers were installed on the poly "Kwik-Lok" machines that seal the bags.

A seven digit number is put on the bag containing both a lot number and the date packaged.

In the case of the paper bags, an inkjet printer/swivel arm is used to do the labelling.

Griffin explained that having the packaging date on the bag has other benefits besides the trace back feature in the even of an emergency. Produce managers in the stores that carry the company's brands can display the freshest possible product.

"I have no doubt this is quickly going to become the standard in the industry." he said.

In fact, the Canadian Horticultural Council is currently developing a food safety program for all horticultural crops including potatoes. With some very minor adjustments, the Griffin operation will be in a position to be validated under the national program once it come fully on-stream.

The company is a major employer in the West Prince area with a workforce of 15-45 people, depending on the time of year.

They grade their own potatoes as well as those from other farmers. The company has designated one staff member to operate and maintain the labelling equipment on a regular basis.

However, all staff on the production line have been trained to use the equipment if necessary.

Griffin said the new system has necessitated some changes right through the system.

Foremen must now record the codes on the invoices and the office staff must make sure the information included in all of its paperwork.

The codes are stored on computer allowing company officials ready access to the information in case of an emergency.

"Our customers benefit by having a safer product," John said. "if a customer is happy with their purchase, the whole industry benefits."

John said he is pleased with how the system has been working so far adding "we look at it as something similar to insurance - we hope we are never in the position to have to trace back our product but it does give both consumers and ourselves a comfort level knowing the system is in place."

(This is one of a series of articles prepared by the P.E.I. Agricultural Awareness Committee to highlight new and innovative developments in the province's farming community and is funded through the PEI ADAPT Council.)

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