Farm Horizons, April 2015

Using locally grown produce in food service facilities

By Jennifer Kotila

Eating locally-grown food is a growing trend, not only in families, but also for the food service industry. Many schools, nursing facilities, and restaurants look for ways to incorporate locally-grown food into their menus. For instance, the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW) FFA turned a one-acre plot on the school property into a garden in which it grows produce. When school is in session, foods grown in the garden are served to students.

“It’s always tricky as to when it is ready,” said HLWW Food Service Director Michelle Johnson, noting it all depends on when the food is ready to harvest. “Some years have been great, and we use a lot (of the food from the garden), and other years, it’s been ready to soon.”

Some of the produce that has been used for school lunches include green beans, watermelon, zucchini, and cantaloupe. Johnson said she planned to use some of the zucchini throughout the year in breads or cakes, but that was not allowed under the new school lunch guidelines that restrict sweets and carbohydrates.

Although there is not a school garden at Dassel-Cokato schools, the district does try to incorporate as much locally-grown food as possible, according to DC food service staff member Donna Hughes.

“When purchasing produce, we need to make sure growers are handling the produce safely, maintaining clean and pest free storage areas, and complying with the federal and state food safety laws,” Hughes noted.

US Foods, which supplies food to many of the local schools, nursing facilities, and restaurants provides them with a list of locally-grown food from which to order. The company began promoting the supply of locally-grown food in 2010 by identifying local foods with a special icon on order sheets. It also provides detailed product information, including the location of the grower or manufacturer, and the distance from the supplier to the US Foods distribution center, according to the company’s website.

Farmers and those with large gardens also donate excess produce to nursing facilities for residents, according to Augustana Lakeside Food Service Director Candy Rasmussen. Some of the typical fare includes squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, apples, and sweet corn. Augustana Lakeside in Dassel also has its own rhubarb patch that it harvests for use in the kitchen, Rasmussen noted.

Not only does the HLWW FFA garden provide fresh food for students attending school, but it has started a community supported agriculture program (CSA). During the growing season, CSAs provide fresh produce weekly to those who buy into the service, and are a great way for those who cannot have their own garden to receive freshly-harvested produce.

Guidelines for facilities using locally-grown produce

Any food facility is allowed to use locally-grown products that are bought or donated directly from a grower or farmers market and serve it to their clients, students, or customers, and this has been a growing trend since 2003 to do so, according to the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

Growers who sell whole produce, or produce with “limited processing” do not have to have a food handler’s license to sell the produce, but they are responsible for making sure the food complies with regulations, and it is handled and stored properly. Limited processing includes sorting, trimming, or washing produce. For instance, trimming the tops of carrots, husking sweet corn, and washing potatoes.

People who sell or donate food that is processed are typically required to be licensed. The processing of food includes slicing, heating, canning, freezing, drying, mixing, coating, bottling, enriching, and other similar actions. Not only do growers who process their food need to have a food handler’s license, the processing must be done in an inspected and approved kitchen or processing facility following all applicable regulations.

If using local growers to supply the facility with local produce, some other guidelines include:

• checking with the local regulatory authority that licenses and inspects the facility about any training, licensing, or permit regulations that may be required before changing the menu to incorporate locally grown foods;

• visiting the farm and asking questions about the production of food, its handling, and its storage;

• inspecting the transportation vehicle for signs of chemicals, odors, and debris;

• inspecting the produce for signs of damage, disease, insects, and over- or under-ripeness;

• properly wash the produce before use; and,

• ask for a receipt of purchase.

A receipt of purchase should include:

• the date the produce was received and who it was received by;

• whether it was donated or purchased, and the purchasing price;

• the amount and kind of produce received;

• the date the produce was harvested and harvest location; and,

• the name, address, and phone number of the grower.

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