From a press release:
In a proactive and cautionary move, Blue Ridge Food Ventures, a shared-use food production facility in Buncombe County, voluntarily halted our normal production schedule on April 26 after learning that one of the businesses that uses our facility, Smiling Hara, was under investigation as a possible link to the Salmonella outbreak in Buncombe County. We contacted a third-party consultant and specialist in food safety to conduct environmental testing to ensure no possibility of cross contamination within the facility.
We voluntarily took these aggressive measures to assure the public and the businesses that use our facility, along with their customers, that there was no systemic problem at the BRFV facility. Our top concern is for the protection of human health and food safety, and to allow the businesses that use the facility to return to production as quickly as possible. At no time did the N.C. Department of Agriculture nor the Buncombe County Department of Health advise Blue Ridge Food Ventures that we were under consideration as a source of the outbreak or require these aggressive measures.
Of the 100 areas tested at the facility, 20 were taken directly from items in the Smiling Hara storage area and 80 were taken from all around the facility, including the shared-use equipment, production and storage areas, the mop room, and the facility break room and restrooms. The independent laboratory in Wilson, N.C. that analyzed these environmental tests has advised Blue Ridge Food Ventures that test results are 100 percent negative for the presence of Salmonella. Blue Ridge Food Ventures will allow the businesses that use the facility to resume production effective Wednesday, May 9.
If the results of this voluntary testing had discovered any contamination we would have contracted with a third-party environmental service firm to completely sanitize the facility, followed by another round of environmental testing, delaying the reopening of the facility. Though these results demonstrate that our strict safety protocols successfully prevented cross contamination, we will continue to review our policies and procedures for the use of our physical facility and equipment to ensure that the highest standards to protect human health and food safety continue to be followed.
Depending on the season and their products, 20 to 40 businesses rent time and industrial kitchen space at BRFV during any given month, including caterers, food trucks and push cart operators. It was a difficult decision to halt production for these small local food production companies, but our top concern is always the protection of human health and food safety.
This situation has illustrated how valuable Blue Ridge Food Ventures is to so many entrepreneurs. The community has shown great support for this facility and the businesses that use it. We appreciate all the messages of support we and these businesses received during this challenging time. We especially want to thank the businesses that offered the temporary use of their commercial kitchens to the businesses that utilize Blue Ridge Food Ventures. We are eager to welcome these businesses back into production at Blue Ridge Food Ventures.
Blue Ridge Food Ventures was started in 2006 by AdvantageWest, the economic development partnership serving the 23 counties of Western North Carolina. It is a nonprofit Limited Liability Corporation with AdvantageWest as sole member. More than 200 food and natural product businesses have gotten their start at Blue Ridge Food Ventures.