Food safety issues can mean more than keeping the potato salad cold on a summer picnic.
For others food safety is a business concern that affects consumer confidence. And Rob Carper believes he is carving out a niche in food safety system development with his Baxter-based Northern Sun Consulting business.
Ray Beyer, grocery store manager who has 14 years experience at Fix's Family Foods in Wadena, used Carper's consulting service. Beyer said Carper was available to come into the store and put them on a plan and train individuals as food safety managers.
Part of the effort is monitoring temperatures in food display cases for hot and cold foods in grocery deli sections. Beyer said their grocery store also had a little more involved in its meat department because they operate their own smokehouse.
Gisela Moench, deli manager, and Pat Vareberg, meat department manager, were also involved in the training.
Beyer said part of the plan was developing verification procedures and records and looking at the process of how food flowed through the store's system from refrigerator truck in the receiving area to the cooler. Diagrams created for the process help when training new employees. The plan looked at critical control, critical standard operating procedures and verification.
"It didn't change a lot of what we did," Beyer said. "It made us more aware of what we were doing. ... It's good preventative medicine."
Carper, a former federal and state food inspector for 20 years, said he saw the need for a consultant service when the new food code arrived with a manager certification rule that put more responsibility on operators. He's worked with customers, restaurant and retail food outlets, in Brainerd, Baxter, Nisswa, Lake Shore, Staples, Motley, Crosslake, Pequot Lakes, Pine River and Backus.
Carper said he believes he is a pioneer in this consulting business approach in the state. He provides an analysis of critical controls in retail food safety systems, uses equipment to monitor temperatures and develops a diagram for operators.
"We sometimes discover they are doing things they don't need to do and they can save time -- steps."
He said the state does not have the resources to go in and help food service managers administer programs or train managers. And that opened the door for the consultant role.
"For safety we have to depend on what the people who handle our food do," Carper said. "... They've always been responsible but rules have been changed."
He spends three days in a store typically and develops a process map of how things actually work and then a plan is developed. He said the payoffs for customers come with meeting new government regulations and having greater confidence in their own operations.
"It's a liability issue for them always," Carper said.
For small operators costs to use a consultant can be less than $500, depending on the type of operations and the client's needs. Carper estimates he has put on 70,000 miles traveling to sites in Minnesota and Wisconsin in the three years since he started the business. He works from a home base in Baxter.
"The potential is great," Carper said of future growth in the business. "The market is wide open."
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