Vanee Foods and Eli’s Cheesecake Company have a lot in common. Even though the former focuses on producing soups and sauces and the other focuses on delectable desserts, they are both family-owned businesses being run by second and third generations, both are located in the Chicagoland area and both are focused on food safety.

“Food safety has evolved over time, to how you clean to how you document and how SQF is met. And that’s through our standards and through our people,” says Marc Schulman, president of Eli’s Cheesecake Company.

Schulman’s father, Eli, started in the restaurant business more than 70 years ago with a coffee shop concept that he eventually evolved into a dessert production business, which is now housed in a 62,000-sq.-ft. bakery on Chicago’s northwest side.

“We’ve always taken food safety as very important. And now we have the ways to document and to get better,” he says.

One way Eli’s has went about getting better at food safety documentation is by obtaining a Level 2 SQF certification and working with companies like Alchemy, a food safety training solutions provider.

“In our business, the most important people are the sanitation workers,” he says.

Putting food safety as a top priority has given Eli’s an added benefit. The company is not a traditional co-packer, but it does have custom customers. Schulman says upholding its reputation through maintaining high standards and quality is an asset for the business. 

“Independent food companies have opportunities as long as you’re committed,” he says. “We work very hard to make sure our standards are on the right side of food safety and continue to improve them.”

Luke Vanee, vice president of marketing and communications for Vanee Foods, agrees with this. The company provides a number of different services to a number of different customers, from being a contract manufacturer for globally branded CPG firms to producing private label items for foodservice distributors as well as custom formulations for chain restaurants. 

“We take food safety seriously, and we actually see it as a competitive advantage,” says Vanee. “We’re set up between our culture and the way we use technology to meet and exceed all the market and regulatory expectations. And we can do it at a competitive cost structure compared to many companies doing it themselves.”

Vanee Foods has three separate facilities located in the western suburbs of Chicago. The company is BRC certified and achieved an “A” review through working with Alchemy to train its frontline staff in food safety.

“When we talk about food safety—and now we have the FSMA act coming—the mindset needs to be changed,” says Jack Ridge, director of food safety and quality assurance for Vanee Foods. “It’s done by encouraging our workers, understanding where they’re at, retraining, understanding why we’re doing what we’re doing and what we need to do.”

To implement a food safety culture, Ridge says Vanee’s administrative level believes in leading by example.

“It’s establishing a good foundation by working on the plant floor and understanding the challenges coming and the changes we need to make,” Ridge says. 

At a time when many processors are dreading FSMA compliance dates, Luke Vanee says the company is actually excited by the coming regulatory changes.

“It’s almost as if FSMA is our innovation,” he says. “We’re figuring out how we comply and exceed the expectations and how to do it in a cost-effective manner.”