‘Pickle School’ focuses on food safety

When we think of pickles, it’s unlikely that we picture the series of legal and bureaucratic hoops necessary to bring them to market.  However, last week in Asheville a group of potential food entrepreneurs dove head first into the challenge of re-imagining pickles in just such a context as they participated in N.C. State University’s three-day-long Better Process Control for Acidified Foods Course, affectionately referred to as “Pickle School.”

Pickle School, which also includes salsa, tomato sauces, barbecue sauces, hot sauces and just about any other acid-based canned food, shies away from teaching the techniques and recipes used for pickling. Instead the course focuses on how to achieve regulatory compliance with the Food and Drug Administration. Safety is the key focus of the course, ensuring that food ventures of all sizes protect their customers from poorly packaged and poorly preserved foods that can ultimately jeopardize the safety of consumers. A major component of the curriculum included preparing a new product for legal sale under both state and federal regulations; a process that involves a number of steps, tests and filings.

Dr. Fletcher Arritt of N.C. State’s Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition delivered the course with the help of Allison Smathers. Arritt’s mix of humor and storytelling kept students engaged as they covered topics ranging from the common food-borne pathogens to the anatomy of a glass jar.  Students came from both ends of the food spectrum, from those working to fill training requirements for their jobs as managers or supervisors at major food processing operations to those pursuing faint dreams of selling at a local farmers market.

At the conclusion of the course, students satisfied FDA training requirements to supervise the manufacturing and packaging of acidified foods. Many of the course’s students will spend the next several months refining their process with the assistance of Arritt to bring new products to market.

About Gina Smith
Gina Smith is the Mountain Xpress Food section editor and writer. She can be reached at gsmith@mountainx.com.

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