Top Down Food Safety

From the time I got the job as Food Safety Coordinator for my family’s farms, one thing I heard over and over from consultants and auditors is that a GFSI level food safety program was something that started at the top. What I took from that was that you had to get the managers on board and their employees would follow suite. The last several years have taught me what all those people actually meant. They didn’t mean close to the top or even one step down from the top, but literally the very top of the organization needs to buy in completely or you are going to have a massive battle on your hands for a very long time.

This is a hard thing to do, especially in a family business. In my experience, food safety managers tend to be guys in their 20’s or 30’s, especially in family farms, who have been given the job to figure out what needed to be done and make it happen. Speaking from experience it can be extremely hard to get the generation above you to listen and act on all the various requirements a high level food safety certification requires. I would love to sit here and tell you it is your bosses fault and that they’re the problem, but what you and I have to accept is that it is our job to make this system work, and if we’re not conveying the need and getting management to understand we’d better find a new approach or a different job, because until they’re on board the whole system is going to de-rail on a daily basis.

Luckily for me my upper management was on board… almost. All the big stuff was understood, all the expenses for sanitation and testing, no problem. The extra time and money for training and cleaning, absolutely behind it, but when it comes to everyone wearing gloves and hairnets and not eating anything in the packing shed, well, things break down. Hairnets suck, it’s true, no one likes to wear them. I shave my head in the summer and I still put one on, it itches like crazy, but if I don’t then why would anyone else? That’s the point that you have to get across to upper management, because if the people you have working the line see that the boss doesn’t wear the hairnet or gloves, then why should they. Or worse if they notice the boss only puts a hairnet on when the food safety cop manager is on the floor, then that’s as good as telling them they can do the same.

It’s been my experience that when you take the time to have the conversation with management about the implications of their actions/inactions on the overall food safety program they tend to listen. It can be an awkward conversation and I know I am inclined to hope they fix it, but I also know that it never fixes itself without taking the time to have a conversation. Just remember they hired you to do a job, that job includes them, and if they stated it didn’t when they hired you it’s time to find new work.

Robert Holthouse
COO of Orizant &
Food Safety Manager of Holthouse Farms

Article on Sapphire Safety @

We were lucky enough to be approached by the editors of American Vegetable Grower/American Fruit Grower/Florida Grower at our last trade show, who found our approach to the food safety problem intriguing. Paired with Robert Holthouse, our COO and a 5th generation farmer who took his family’s food safety program on his shoulders a few years ago, they provide an in-depth look at how Sapphire started and what it can do for the agricultural industry.

I’ve been asked what makes Sapphire Safety – and our company Orizant – so different from any other tech company or solution available to the agricultural community. It comes back to Robert. He’s a farmer. His dad is a farmer. His grandpa is a farmer. And it goes back like that to 1903 with his great-great grandfather, who started Holthouse Farms in Celeryville, Ohio. The problems a farmer faces, my family has faced. They are problems we have worked to solve, and have solved, and are solving. And to Robert and to myself, it is our duty as members of a new generation in this industry, to share solutions and provide the most innovative changes we can find to anyone involved in our industry. We are so excited for the next several years with how much the agricultural industry will grow and improve, and we are excited to be a part of that in a variety of ways.

Kate Holthouse
CEO of Orizant

A Minor (but honest) Plug about Sapphire

I was sitting in my office yesterday under a mountain of paperwork preparing to start my semi-annual paperwork review. Which means I am about to spend the better part of two weeks digging through piles of logs searching for any minor errors, white out, or corrective actions I may have missed this season. Thankfully, this is likely the last time I will need to do this.

I finished the stack of shipping and receiving logs yesterday. It was 156 pages long. That’s almost 4000 entries, and that is only for one of my two packing facilities. I know it needs to be done to make sure there isn’t anything I missed, but even if I find something, it’s 4 months in the rear view mirror and there isn’t much I can do about it now.

With my food safety software, Sapphire, I don’t have to worry about that anymore. I have all my logs filed automatically when I archive an entry, and I know right away if there is something wrong with one. I don’t have to worry about missing an error, or something out of parameters because I am notified if there is. I print out a weekly backup of all my logs so I have a hard copy and don’t have to worry about losing anything, but primarily the stacks of food safety logs are gone. No running out to the packing shed, and various trucks to try and track down entries from, I don’t have to hear that someone lost the log book and all the logs in it, I have all the information real time and filed real time as well.

So while I sit at the foot of my own personal mountain of logs, I feel alright, because I know that this is the last time I’m going to have to climb it.

Robert Holthouse
COO of Orizant &
Food Safety Manager of Holthouse Farms

Food Safety

Food Safety Concept

Anyone who has ever been tasked with the job of food safety can probably tell you that the single most frustrating thing about it is getting the information required to set it up. When I started my job as a food safety manager there were painfully few tools at my disposal. Sure, there are a couple of online tool kits out there where you can input some information and they will spit out generic SOPs and logs for audits, but when it comes to implementing a comprehensive food safety system that actually keeps the produce safe, well… that information is a little harder to find.

I spent the better part of 6 months locked in an office trying to develop a manual that would cover the entirety of my company’s operation, and when I finally finished I realized I had only achieved a small fraction of what I set out to do. Sure I had the books, logs, SOPs, SSOPs, training manuals, and everything else an auditor could hope for, but I was faced with the very real possibility that the system may never be employed as I saw it working in my head. The basic problem is that when it comes to agriculture, you’re out and moving a lot of the time, and one food safety manager can’t keep his eyes on everyone.

I lacked real time data on what was happening. I lacked the ability to ensure that all the logs were being filled out when they were supposed to be, and not just when the person in charge had time. The greatest food safety plan can mean nothing if you can’t make the cultural changes in the business to ensure everyone understands why the system is there and does their level best to make it work.

Robert Holthouse
Food Safety Manager at Holthouse Farms  & Doug Walcher Farms