Food safety programs are becoming central to shippers ability to market their product, shippers say.

And there’s always something new to learn, said Dick Okray, co-owner of Plover, Wis.-based Okray Family Farms Inc.

“I’d only point out that this is, bar none, a process,” he said. “It is an ongoing thing. We never stop doing this. It’s the kind of thing where day upon day and week upon week we are constantly looking at new ways to protect the integrity of the crop.”

There’s always something new to try each year, Okray said.

“In our operation alone, we have in the last year, we no longer allow anyone to eat or drink anything in our facility,” he said.

“By spring we’ll have no access to our finished product by any but a few employees. If you want to get into my packing shed, first we have to leave the jewelry, then I’m going to tag you, we’ll date it. I’ll be with you, you sign back out.”

Access to production areas at his operation has never been more restricted, Okray said.

“Truckers don’t get into finished product area at all,” he said. “There is constant record keeping, sealing trucks. All are part of good agricultural practices and good handling practices.”

Restrictions will continue to be tightened, he added.

“As we go forward, these things will crystallize,” he said.

“They’re all going to be set, carved in stone. Then, we start tweaking it and make it better and better and safer. The biggest drawback is you never want to sit back and say it’s done. It’s never done.”

Paul Dolan, general manager of Grand Forks, N.D.-based Associated Potato Growers Inc., said traceability is central to his food safety program.

“All the containers we put up and ship and we can trace that back to the field where it’s grown,” he said.