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The hours behind every bite

There are many things in life we may take for granted whether it is the technology behind our smartphones or the hours spent ensuring each bite of food we take is safe and wholesome. Last week, I had the chance to appreciate those who work in food safety while capturing amazing details of the tour on my phone.

Many Green County natives may be familiar with the Foreign Type Cheesemakers Association. The

nonprofit coop started back in 1935 when Green County cheese producers pooled $100 to develop a milk quality testing area. Zachari Tollakson, director of laboratory operations, said the fact that the lab is still operating today is a testament to the cheesemakers who founded it.

As of April 1, the iconic lab carries the new name Precision Biolabs. Executive Director Gail Zeitler said the rebranding is meant to reflect its state-of-the-art testing capabilities and showcase services on a broader customer base. The coop has 60 members but tests products from more than 100 clients. The third-party food safety lab tests cheese, milk, meat, raw ingredients and more from the Midwest and beyond.

Their expertise includes milk and water analysis, pathogen and indicator organism analysis and proximate analysis including pH, moisture, butterfat, salt, protein and solids determination. Essentially, they are checking for any possible dangers in food safety. Tollakson said their goal is to prevent problems instead of issuing recalls. Although much of their testing is made more efficient with automated systems, the lab still relies on manual testing, especially when checking for potential drug residues.

Using an electronic database, everything can be coded and tracked through the various projects and stages tasked to 16 employees. In October 2017, they had a new expansion with the micro lab. Care is key while they grow organisms in-house that they want to target in food products. An autoclave on site uses high pressure and temperature to kill any harmful elements, even in their waste products.

Even though I studied journalism in college, the tour made me wish I dived into the sciences with the fascinating work taking place around me. It’s no surprise those studying biology, microbiology or chemistry may find a job related to agriculture within our state’s diverse food industry.

Tollakson said it is rare to have a non-profit lab such as the one found in Monroe. He emphasized the importance of this the behind-the-scenes work that ensures the safety of the food system in the country. Food processors are constantly improving their operations, and Tollakson said the 2011 Food Safety Act changed the food industry exponentially. Nutrition labeling and environmental monitoring are just some of the new regulations that impact the clients they serve.

We may not always need to know the functions behind our Instagram app or the scientific methods used to test the food we are snapping a photo of for safety, but we can be reassured that our state’s processors work tirelessly to provide a safe, wholesome and secure food supply for families.

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