Consider it lucky No. 7. This fall, the feed mill at AGChoice Feed and Grain in Emporia, Kan., became MFA Incorporated’s seventh site to be certified under the Safe Feed/Safe Food program administered by the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA).
That means all feed-manufacturing facilities operated by MFA Incorporated’s Feed Division now carry this prestigious designation. MFA has more Safe Feed/Safe Food mills than any other company in Missouri, according to AFIA, and the Emporia location is the only full-line dry feed manufacturer in Kansas to carry the certification.
“The feed industry, like most others, has been subject to increases in regulatory oversight,” MFA Feed Division Vice President Dr. Alan Wessler said. “Safe Feed/Safe Food gives companies like MFA an opportunity to lead with what we are already doing. We’ve made it our culture to continually improve our manufacturing process. Safe Feed/Safe Food allows us to move up one more notch and be recognized for our efforts.”
The Safe Feed/Safe Food certification is only given to facilities that demonstrate best-in-class manufacturing practices that protect workers from harm and produce safe food for animals in compliance with current regulations, explained Joel G. Newman, president and CEO of AFIA, the world’s largest organization devoted exclusively to representing the interests of the U.S. animal food industry and its suppliers.
“MFA and its employees should be commended for showing outstanding leadership and excellence in making safe manufacturing their No. 1 priority,” Newman said. “Our industry prides itself on serving our local customers and supporting safe manufacturing practices in accordance with federal regulations.”
Safe Feed/Safe Food uses a third-party organization—the Safe Quality Food Institute—to administer the program. Launched in 2004, the voluntary program is regularly updated to help industry comply with new and emerging federal guidelines, such as the recent Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Since being signed into law in 2011 by President Obama, FSMA has been phased in throughout the feed and food industry until the final draft was enacted in 2017.
The centerpiece of the act is the requirement for all food, feed, ingredient and pet food facilities to identify food/feed safety hazards and develop written guidelines to control them—procedures MFA proactively put in place by participating in the Safe Feed/Safe Food program six years ago. MFA’s feed mill in Gerald, Mo., was the first to be certified in 2011, followed by the rest of the cooperative’s Missouri mills within a year. MFA began the process of getting the Emporia, Kan., mill certified after purchasing the facility in 2012.
“This is a huge accomplishment for the Emporia feed mill and for MFA,” said Tom Staudt, director of feed manufacturing for MFA Incorporated. “Since the Safe Feed/Safe Food program was adopted, we’ve been working toward this goal to get all of our quality control and regulatory programs up to the standards that meet certification. We’ve always manufactured safe feed, but this program gives us third-party verification. It’s another set of eyes coming into evaluate your facilities and procedures and provide that reassurance to our customers.”
Although beef feed is its predominant product, the mill at AGChoice Feed and Grain also manufactures a variety of feeds for other livestock, including dairy, swine, poultry, goats and rabbits. All the feed originating at the facility is bulk, but MFA bagged feed is available in its warehouse. The unique operation sells feed both wholesale to other AGChoice locations and retail to farmers and ranchers in eastern Kansas, northern Oklahoma and western Missouri. The mill’s 20 full-time employees will produce and deliver around 45,000 tons of feed this year.
“I’ve been here a little over 12 years now, and this is the best group of employees we’ve had,” said Darin Boline, mill manager. “Everybody understands what our goals are, and they’re working toward them.”
The Emporia mill has “come a long way” since MFA Incorporated purchased the facility in 2012, added Boline.
“When MFA bought us, we were still operating with a lot of old equipment—some of it original from when the mill was built in 1956,” he said. “MFA knew they had a challenge here, but they’re not afraid to invest in a facility. One of the first things they did was put in an automated mixing system and a brand-new mixer, which helps with efficiencies and getting feed mixed to specifications. We also have better rolling stock, so we can stay on the road and serve our customers.”
While adding Safe Feed/Safe Food stipulations didn’t mean drastic changes to the mill’s quality-control procedures, Boline said it has ramped up recordkeeping.
“It means a lot more paperwork and more sets of eyes on things, but what I keep telling my employees is that this will prevent mistakes from becoming problems,” Boline said. “We’re human, so we’re not going to be perfect, but if we can keep those mistakes internal, it’s something we can identify and fix. If it gets out to the farmer, it will be a much bigger issue.”
In addition to an emphasis on recordkeeping, the Safe Feed/Safe Food program also provides guidelines in the areas of employee training; facility planning and control; manufacturing and processing; use of monitoring devices; building, equipment, and grounds; ingredient purchasing and controls; identification and traceability; and controls of non-conforming products.
“It starts at the beginning, from the ingredients that come in from our suppliers all the way through production until the product goes out the door,” Staudt explained. “It even involves transportation. Our trucks are cleaned and inspected before we put product in them.”
Before joining the AGChoice staff two years ago, Arlen Ashburn, who manages the warehouse and bagged feed side of the business, spent more than 30 years in quality-control positions for concrete, asphalt, soils and structural steel industries. He said that his past experience proved just how important safe procedures are to a company.
“Quality control is a big issue, and it’s getting even bigger in the feed industry,” Ashburn said. “It makes a lot of difference to our customers to know that we care about what we do, and I think this certification will help give us a step up on the competition.”
By receiving its certification, AGChoice Feed and Grain joins more than 500 facilities across the country that have earned Safe Feed/Safe Food status. Livestock feed and pet food manufacturers, ingredient suppliers, integrated producers, meat processors, feed purchasers, livestock producers, renderers and others can participate. Facilities with the Safe Feed/Safe Food seal must be inspected and recertified every two years in addition to annual self-inspections. These audits include everything from pest control to traceability documentation to biosecurity measures.
“This isn’t something you do once and move on,” Staudt said. “You have to do it daily. It’s an ongoing process.”
Joining the exclusive group of Safe Feed/Safe Food facilities takes time, effort and teamwork by employees at each plant, said David Weidmaier, MFA quality control and feed regulatory specialist.
“No doubt, it is a challenge,” Weidmaier said. “It takes everyone at our feed mills to make this happen. The program is completely employee-driven. We give them the roadmap, and it’s up to them to follow it. No matter what MFA feed mill you visit, you’ll see a prime example of employees taking pride in what they’re making and what they’re doing.”
For more information, visit safefeedsafefood.org.