FMSA in the Winery
Most people aren’t accustomed to thinking of wine as a food product. In fact, it’s one of the world’s oldest processed foods. What we’re doing is taking a food—grapes, and treating them in such a way so they are preserved for later consumption. In our case, the treatment is fermentation, and the alcohol produced by this process is the preservative that makes this food safe for years into the future.
As a food processing facility, we want to ensure that we’re treating the grapes and resulting wine to the highest of standards. The great blessing that we have in wine grapes is that they reach ideal sugar levels so that the concentration of ethanol produced during fermentation inhibits the growth of any pathogenic—aka, illness-causing—microbes. While many could consider this a pass to ignore proper food handling guidelines, we don’t.
Wineries, which have long been exempt from certain federal food codes, are now being held more accountable under 2011’s Food Safety Modernization Act [FSMA]. As of this year, even the smallest of wineries are required to be in compliance.
This is a good thing.
This is a great opportunity.
I know that quite a few people find new and more legislation to be an unnecessary burden, but allow me to give a little history. We’ve only had food safety regulations for 110 years. It began with the Pure Food and Drug Act, which was put in place because people were dying as a result of adulterated foods, beverages, and drugs. There was no way of knowing what was in your food, because there was no labeling required. You could buy a loaf of bread that was made of sawdust, plaster and flour and not know it until you tried to eat it. Milk was regularly watered down and blended with plaster of paris and starch. Medicines marketed as for babies could be high proof alcohol and opiates. Thousands of children died every year as a result of these and other food adulterations. This Act, and the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration to enforce it, saved untold numbers of lives.
Since that time, we’ve seen periodic updates to our food codes, but they are actually pretty few and far between. Before FSMA, the last major piece of legislation that dealt with food safety was in 1938. That’s a 73 year gap. We were long overdue.
So what does this mean for wineries? Well, first of all—training. At Aridus, every employee who works at the winery is trained extensively in cleaning and sanitation protocols. We spend time learning to identify the signs of contamination, primarily by spoilage organisms, how to address these issues, and most importantly, how to prevent them in the first place. This naturally plays into the next step: establishing a system of preventive controls. We’re evaluating all of our processes to identify areas where we can change or improve so that we have comprehensive checks and actions to prevent contamination and spoilage. Finally, we need to demonstrate that our controls are working. To do this, we’re capturing quantitative data by testing our tanks and equipment regularly to validate that we’re operating in a truly sanitary manner.
Even though all this is formally codified in legislation, we’re embracing it. There’s no reason not to. We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do.