Texas Food Solutions, a high pressure processing toller in Houston, has seen increased sales of its staple products that have a long shelf life thanks to the technology.
TFS President Jasmine Sutherland says with food processors stretching to operate at higher volumes, HPP’s ability to kill pathogens in the final packaging makes her feel secure that the quality of the products is maintained.
Sutherland answers five questions about how the company, which serves southeast Texas and Louisiana, is protecting workers and meeting demand.
Q. In which product categories is TFS seeing a spike in sales?
Sutherland: We saw an immediate increase in anything considered a staple item: proteins, milk substitutes, cooked sides, etc. These are all ready-to-eat items as well, so that shows that people are looking for quick, safe solutions for their meals.
Q. How is your company keeping workers safe?
Sutherland: We started by designating a team leader that is coordinating all efforts. When he brings a new measure to the table, we all work as a team to implement it. This has included completely stopping travel and outside visitors a few weeks prior to the stay at home order; temperature checking all employees; moving shift start times to have less people in the building during crossover; increasing sanitation in all common areas; dividing up breaks to allow for social distancing; retraining employees on proper glove, sanitation and personal hygiene procedures; and reassuring employees that compensation measures were passed and if they or a family member were sick, they needed to stay at home until cleared.
Our job is to make sure our employees are equipped with the knowledge needed to keep them and their families healthy. To do that, we used third party translation services to make sure all communication was translated into every primary language that our employees speak. Equally as important, once we had a plan, we communicated it to our customers so they knew they would not see an interruption in service from Texas Food Solutions.
Q: As an HPP toller, what benefits does HPP offer CPG companies the pandemic?
Sutherland: HPP offers an insurance policy of added safety. A lot of processors are increasing volumes and stretching at the seams. This pressure might mean that you are moving faster and outside of your normal operational comfort zone. There is an immense sense of security that you made a great product and then on top of that, can guarantee absence of pathogenic growth with a multi-log reduction, while maintaining quality and nutritional integrity. This only comes from adding high pressure as an intervention step.
Secondly, shelf life. They can concentrate on producing one SKU at a time with added shelf life. This helps with efficiency and limiting product crossover in plants. Win-win.
Q: What benefits does HPP offer consumers when stocking up on groceries?
Sutherland: As far as the consumer goes, HPP delivers a tremendous shelf life increase—up to 600%! We can keep customers abiding to stay-at-home orders by making sure their fresh products last and they aren't having to grocery shop every three days. With pathogen reduction, we also limit their exposure to foodborne illnesses.
Q: Do you have tips for food companies on how to weather these challenging times?
Sutherland: Try to put employee safety at the forefront of your food culture. Your team is essential and empathy is especially important to apply. COVID-19 is affecting their mental health and ability to perform their jobs. Overlapping safety protocols and increasing communication to quickly bring new measures to the forefront will add a sense of security and calmness.
This won't last forever, but it is a great lesson for all producers. FSIS requires a food terrorism plan, but now maybe we all need to be looking at designing pandemic plans as well.