As owner and general manager of Fancher Creek Packing, Jeff Pilegard was all too familiar with the paper monsters known as food safety binders throughout his citrus packing plant.

“We had binders in every part of our shed,” Pilegard said, adding that maintaining the binders was no small task. Updates had to be written, printed out and added by hand; pages were sometimes accidentally ripped out; and staff use resulted in damage and stains that made some pages unreadable.

Pilegard said Fancher Creek packs about 500,000 cartons of various citrus annually, including navel oranges from his 100-acre operation. The shed handles everything from lemons to grapefruits for other growers, and record keeping was becoming difficult to manage.

Then a solution presented itself from an unexpected source. The Orosi, Calif., grower/packer was talking with his wax and fungicide supplier, JBT FoodTech Corp., and was surprised to hear the firm had a food safety program.

“We went online with part of the system in January and we really like that you can do it all with a PDA,” Pilegard said. “If anybody is going to keep up with the changes in food safety requirements they need to get a computerized system in place.”

That philosophy is what led JBT officials to develop the program, which launched in the fourth quarter of 2010, said Amy Bittner, a global regulatory specialist who is JBT’s associate product manager of fresh produce technologies in Riverside, Calif.

JBT has been in the postharvest business for 80 years, supplying everything from cleaning solutions to machinery that washes bins. The company has offices in the top three fruit producing states in the U.S. — California, Florida and Washington — with additional offices in Texas, China, South Africa and Thailand.

Bittner said JBT officials realized many clients needed better ways to meet food safety requirements than binders and hand-written notes, so they hired additional staff and developed a suite of products and services using their trademarked DataPort systems.

“We just signed four new contracts in the past month,” Bittner said June 15. “And we don’t just do citrus. We have clients in apples, avocados and other produce and food processing who are using it.”

DataPort systems include hardware and software to create documents, collect and update data and maintain records. Bittner said the DataPort Mobile recordkeeping system is compliant with federal regulations for electronic signature management. The DataPort SensorChek system integrates with customers existing sensors to provide real-time monitoring of temperature, humidity, pH meters and other safety variables.

“We have a computer onsite that JBT can access to do automatic updates and notify us so we know what’s happening before our next food safety audit,” Pilegard said.

JBT also transfers standard operating procedures and other paperwork to electronic documents and helps clients write food safety manuals.

Pilegard and his wife Christiane, who is co-owner of Fancher Creek Packing, particularly like the onsite support that JBT provides. JBT employees installed the systems at Fancher Creek and did onsite training for staff there. JBT also visits every three months for mock audits to help the Pilegards make sure they are maintaining compliance.