I’m not going to lie and tell you that it wasn’t a long trip. We covered a lot of ground and were all wiped out at the end, but it was worth it. Niki Cloud of MAMP put together a wonderful educational trip. Not only did valuable friendships emerge and old ones get reinforced, but a lot of information you can’t get anywhere but in person was exchanged. I would love to see all the state associations adopt this fun way to congregate and learn.
I have to call out Kurzweils’ Country Meats (owned by the unstoppable Chris Kurzweil) as a real delight. His plant has been designed for growth, and considering how good his Burnt End Brats are, he is going to need all that room soon enough. Chris is one of those humans they forgot to put the quit in. Years ago, his plant burned down, and through his relationship with fellow processors, he was able to continue to fill orders until the plant was rebuilt. The fire gave Chris a chance to turn lemons into lemonade and design the plant he always wanted.
His new plant had several features that I liked and wanted to point out to you. First, all the walls throughout the entire facility feature 9 inches of insulation, which is a huge up-front cost but saves money on the back end. Chris also laid out the plant process flow in the shape of a circle from start to finish. Product never has to cross back over any area, it just continues into the packaging room. Chris does a lot of co-packing work, so having a dedicated packing room and yet another for labeling is a huge advantage.
One of the coolest features I saw, however, is the sanitizer, which is located centrally in the building and has nozzles that go into every other room of the plant. This eliminates a lot of traffic and keeps things simple. He also came up with the idea to avoid potential boil order issues in the area by connecting his sanitizer (chlorine dioxide) to his water storage tanks. There may never be a boil order in the area, but if there is and he finds out after a day of making those fabulous brats, he won’t have to worry about the product. That is good, old-fashioned Missouri logic right there, and I like it! Hope for the best but prepare for the worst!
Chris doesn’t mind talking with other processors about his plant and sharing his knowledge. He even gave me permission to put his phone number in this blog, just in case anybody has questions (I’ll put it at the end for you, so it’s easy to find — more good, old-fashioned Missouri logic right there too!). In exchange, he asked me to add a comment about his dashing good looks and how extremely humble he is despite those good looks. Did I mention that he also has one heck of a great food-safety team here at We R Food Safety! backing him up? I happen to be his consultant. Along with having a propensity for excellent logic, we Missourians are very humble people — did you not know that?
On the bus tour, we also visited Hertzog Meat Co. in Butler. This is a very new and beautiful plant. Todd and his crew hit the ground running. I was there on the first day of slaughter a few months back (we posted about it on our Facebook page!). He is another one of those Missourians they forgot to put the quit in. They have been processing for only about 90 days now, but they already are doing a bang-up job. Congratulations to the Hertzog family for landing their product in Hyvee supermarkets so darn quickly! Like Kurzweils, Hertzog also has extremely good taste in food-safety software companies, just saying. Their QA person, Kassy, has taken the challenge on with great enthusiasm and doesn’t let a thing get by any of them.
Dinner during the bus tour was at Lockwood Packing Company in Lockwood, inside the 35,000-square-foot addition that is being built. Lockwood is gearing up to do 50,000 pounds of snack sticks a day once the addition is up and running. Like everybody else they’re concerned about finding enough labor to run the plant at full capacity. That will bring special challenges, but they hope to be one of the major employers in the area soon and hope that will help them attract workers who might typically commute to the bigger cities for work. I think they will be able to do that.
We also visited R-H Processing in Rich Hill — which is a custom plant that has been in the family for two generations — and state-inspected Hetherington Meat Processing in Clinton. So much good information is passed back and forth at these meetings. On the bus we were lucky enough to have representatives from the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the University of Missouri Meat Lab.
With deer season just starting in Missouri for bow hunters, one heavily discussed topic on the bus was deer processing — with some of the passengers looking to increase the amount of deer they process and others looking to cut back and focus on other species. Meanwhile, it was mentioned at Hetherington that they have stopped taking bone-in deer, as other avenues are so much more profitable. Those types of knowledge nuggets are, frankly, industry gold — and they can’t typically be discovered in a Zoom meeting or conference call!
I can’t wait for my next tour! Maybe someone reading this will let me be the tour guide!
— Martha Gore, food safety consultant, email@example.com
Note: Chris Kurzweil’s phone number: (816) 590-0447. (Admit it, you thought I’d forget!)