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Lethbridge egg processor gets cracking with safety certification

The five-year-old co-operative expects its new HACCP status to open the door to new markets

When you think of Alberta eggs going to market, you might think of consumers in the grocery store putting a dozen or two in their cart and heading home.

But most of the eggs at the grocery store are the large or extra-large grades, which leaves a significant surplus of lower-demand eggs in the small- to medium-size category.

“About 30 per cent of the eggs that are laid in Canada go for further processing and never end up in a carton,” said Brendan Bassendowski, general manager of the Egg Processing Innovations Cooperative (EPIC) in Lethbridge.

“This part of the egg industry is very often overlooked.”

Alberta’s surplus small and medium eggs used to be shipped to processing facilities in Manitoba or British Columbia, causing that economic value to leave the province. Once these Alberta eggs were processed, some of this production came back to Alberta for food manufacturers to use. That changed in June 2013 when EPIC opened the province’s first egg-breaking operation. Now Alberta breaks its own eggs and keeps that economic value right here at home.

EPIC’s member-owners are 140 egg farmers across the province, with an average flock size of 11,000 hens. The co-operative offers its western Canadian food service and manufacturing customers a wide variety of products, including whole liquid eggs, egg whites, egg yolks, and shells. These egg products are used in salad dressings, baked goods, pasta, Asian noodles, functional foods, natural health products, and premium pet foods.

While the facility had food safety systems in place, being a trusted supplier to processors making branded food products called for a more formal recognition of its approach to food safety, said Bassendowski.

For a small operation like EPIC, buying food safety-related equipment, developing food safety processes and earning accreditation can be a tall order. For that reason, it sought the help of Growing Forward 2 to complete a food safety project in 2016 and 2017 through the Food Safety Systems (Processor) Program. That program helped the co-operative to gain its Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) accreditation, the food-processing industry standard, said Melissa Forsyth, EPIC’s quality assurance manager.

“Some of the GF2 funding purchased lab equipment,” she said. “The rest helped pay for a consultant to help us develop food safety programs and modify our standard operating procedures. These became the backbone for our HACCP program.”

The certification positions the co-op for growth, said Bassendowski.

“Given our geography and linkage to Alberta producers, we’ll continue to grow and improve on the food safety foundations that were implemented with the help of GF2,” he said. “We feel we are in a good position to meet increasing demand from the market with a quality product.”

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