An Ohio-based company that produces 22 million pounds of ready-to-cook chicken weekly, with a focus on accountability and product safety, was recently named winner of the 2022 Food Quality & Safety award in the large company category.
Case Farms Chicken of Winesburg, Ohio, which employs 3,300 associates across all of its facilities, distinguished itself from other businesses by growing a corporate culture of “getting it right” and focusing on the latest technology when it comes to food safety and quality.
The award, presented annually by Food Quality & Safety, honors the dedication and achievement of an organization that makes significant contributions to upholding the highest food standards supported by quantifiable results. This year, our panel of judges, composed of food quality and safety experts, determined that Case Farms demonstrated a comprehensive food safety and quality management program that included a corporate willingness to invest in advanced technology and improvements for food safety. Its Salmonella-reduction program yielded particularly strong results.
Founded in 1986 by Thomas R. Shelton, Case Farms started with the purchase of a family-owned farm called Case Egg & Poultry that included a processing plant in Winesburg, a hatchery in Strasburg, Ohio, and a food distribution center in Akron, Ohio. In its first year, Case Farms processed 135,000 chickens per week and had 140 employees. In the following decades, it grew by acquiring operations in North Carolina and Ohio.
The company’s core values are “honesty, accountability, trust, success, and diversity.” Its Winesburg processing facility employs 675 associates who manufacture fresh and frozen marinated and non-marinated products, including bone-in products, portion-controlled fillets, tenders, and nuggets. Customers include some of the largest and most recognized casual dining, food services, and quick-service restaurants currently available. The company has four facilities, with a corporate complex in Troutman, N.C.
Quality is the main topic at the company, says Larry Epling, senior director of quality assurance/food safety and regulatory, who has been with the company for seven years. “We meet with our founder and chairman of the board every Monday morning, and the first thing we talk about is our quality,” Epling says. “It’s been like that since he started the company 36 years ago.”
A Commitment to Invest in Technology
Case Farms saw a need to update its capabilities and move to new technologies when its customer base moved from using basic raw poultry products to value-added products geared toward quick-serve restaurant chains and casual dining establishments.
In the past year or so, the company has added technologies to maintain and improve food safety. These upgrades include a conveying system that eliminates the need for associates to touch the product after it goes through the portion control sorters, reducing the potential for cross contamination. The system also helps reduce overall microorganism counts and, in turn, helps improve shelf life.
To further improve pathogen control, Case Farms uses Zee Co.’s Pathogen Control Center, a chemical intervention control system that offers precision concentration mixing and reporting for antimicrobial interventions. The system is accessible remotely around the clock and issues alerts to any disruption in the target ranges of concentrations. The processing flow includes three water jet cutting systems that include fillet-harvesting robots. This equipment aids in the reduction of the product handling of portion-control fillets, once again decreasing the possibility of cross contamination and lowering microbial loading by reducing human handling.
A variable retention time freezer helps prevent microbial growth by eliminating the long freeze times typical with conventional freezers. The enhanced freezing process also eliminates unnecessary product aging by not having product waiting to be transported to a freezer and long blast freezing times. That translates into additional days that a restaurant customer can use the product. The freezer can also reduce excess marinade. Products can be grouped and frozen independently according to their optimal freeze times, which locks in flavors and moisture.