Winter season: A time for food safety systems re-evaluation and education for food hubs

Nov 20, 2023

The holiday meal season is often a busy time for food hubs – entities that handle the aggregation, distribution and/or marketing of source-identified regional food – as restaurants, retailers and consumers fill their tables and shelves with an abundance of fresh, local products. However, the subsequent winter months can provide a valuable time for reflection and re-evaluation of a food hub's systems and processes. In this spirit, it may be helpful to remind people working at food hubs that University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP)  offers a suite of food-safety resources – in English and in Spanish – on its website. 

Educational resources include: 

  • A step-by-step guide for food hubs on how to pursue a third-party food safety audit with guidance on how to navigate buyers' questions.
  • Two sample food-safety plans intended as a starting point to be adapted to a food hub's specific operations and practices.
  • Example standard operating procedure, or SOP, documents related to 11 common tasks carried out by food hubs.

“We hope these resources can play a role in helping food hubs to adopt best practices and control risks related to food safety,” says Gwenael Engelskirchen, sustainable food and farming coordinator with UC SAREP,  who led the development of these educational tools. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately, 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases annually. In 2011, to help prevent the occurrence of foodborne illness, the federal government enacted the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), designed to outline actions to be taken at various points along the supply chain for both human and animal food. 

UC SAREP's Food Safety Resources for Food Hubs are intended to help food hubs navigate these food-safety regulations and accompanying best practices. Resources are also available in Spanish at Recursos de seguridad alimentaria para los centros de distribución de alimentos

Food safety certification guide

Some buyers verify a supplier's food safety program by requiring an audit performed by a third-party certification body or auditing company. This Guide to Food Safety Certification offers key considerations before deciding to pursue a food safety audit and helps users navigate the food safety certification process. 

Food safety plan

Food hubs that meet the criteria for full compliance with FSMA's Preventive Controls for Human Food Rule are required to have a food-safety plan in place. And for all food hubs, having a shared document describing the facility's operations and how potential risks of food contamination are managed is a good idea. Two sample food safety plans, inspired by the operations of food hubs in California, provide a starting point and can be adapted to a hub's own operations. 

Standard operating procedures

Standard operating procedures provide detailed step-by-step instructions for how to carry out operational tasks within a food facility. The standard operating procedure samples cover common topics such as handwashing, facility cleaning and more, and are intended to be adapted to a food hub's specific operations and practices. 

Jacob Weiss from Spork Food Hub in Davis said, “the templates were a great starting place for us to build the framework of our food safety plan. It helped us figure out what we needed to (and didn't) need to include. I think the SOPs are also really useful because they are broad enough to get you started but flexible enough to add the specific practices of your business or hub.”

For additional information, visit UC SAREP's webpages on Food Safety Resources for Food Hubs or Recursos de seguridad alimentaria para los centros de distribución de alimentos

These resources and tools were developed in collaboration with various project partners, including Department of Food Science and Technology at UC Davis, Department of Population Health and Reproduction at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Center for Precision Medicine and Data Science at UC Davis Health, and Community Alliance with Family Farmers.

By Gwenael Engelskirchen
Author - Sustainable Food & Farming Coordinator
By Kristen Farrar
Author - Communications & Proposal Coordinator