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Getting from Farm to Table: Chilton Food Innovation Center Helps with the Steps In Between

Getting from Farm to Table: Chilton Food Innovation Center Helps with the Steps In Between

Auburn, Alabama—The Chilton Food Innovation Center, an FDA and ADPH approved facility, assists small fruit and vegetable producers as well as small food businesses with formulation and documentation procedures  to get their products on grocery store shelves. This nonprofit food-processing facility, in cooperation with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station works to give food processors the right experience and equipment to make products such as jams, fruit sauces, pickles and chutneys.

“It [the Chilton Food Innovation Center] gives the participants a place process their products in an approved kitchen. This is the requirement for any food product to be placed on a grocery or gift store shelf in Alabama,” said Dr. Jean Weese, associate director of the Chilton Food Innovation Center.
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The Chilton Food Innovation Center allows food to be processed in clean sanitary conditions under the supervision of a process authority that has completed the Better Process Control School. This process ensures that the food being places on shelves is safer for the consumer. The Director of the Chilton Food Innovation Center, Christy Mendoza, is the processing authority that assists food processors with their needs.

“Generally someone will come to me and already have a product developed to a point,” said Mendoza. “Acidified foods would need to be tested to determine the recipe’s pH to make sure that it is a safe level to be minimally processed and shelf-stable. I work with the client to determine if the Chilton Food Innovation Center is suitable for processing their product in the quantity they need and in their budget. I offer information and contacts to the processors that might help them with business decisions, but I do not have expertise in this area. For the first several processing runs, I am there to make sure the clients have everything they need.”

To use the facility, possible clients must fill out an application and all complete preprocessing requirements. Once they are approved they will schedule processing, bring ingredients and packaging, receive training, process, package and return to their facility with the product ready to sell. Hourly rental of the facility is $40. Other fees are contingent upon how many people will be working and samples sizes.
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Aside from just creating safe and delicious products that benefit consumers, the Chilton Food Innovation Center’s process is designed to enhance the experience for new food processors.

“We have assisted many food processors produce their first products. It gives them the opportunity to see if this is a money making process for them without investing in a lot of equipment only to find out later that they cannot sell their products,” said Weese.

The Chilton Food Innovation Center plans to expand in the future to provide a wider variety of equipment and processing needs, automate labeling and eventually hopes to provide additional services such as business guidance.

For more information on how to become a food processor, prices or to make donations to the Chilton Food Innovation Center, visit http://offices.aces.edu/chiltonfoodcenter/ or contact Christy Mendoza at cnm0012@aces.edu.

About Evelyn Walker