Helping make food safe

Joell Eifert (left) shows graduate student Moonyoung Choi how to conduct food safety tests.

Joell Eifert (left) shows graduate student Moonyoung Choi how to conduct food safety tests.

Taking a food product from an idea to the grocery shelf can be expensive, time-consuming, and even deadly if not done properly.

For more than 15 years, Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Food Innovations Program has been offering technical assistance for food business startups by helping to make sure their products meet safety standards while providing a wholesome food product.

“We serve as a technical advisor for companies that could not otherwise afford it,” said Joell Eifert, director of the Food Innovations Program. “The program strives to increase the awareness of Virginia’s food producers about matters of food safety, food regulations, and concerns associated with starting a food business.”

Formerly known as the Virginia Food Processor Technical Assistance Program, the group housed in the Department of Food Science and Technology offers testing services to ensure the safety of new and existing food products. The program also provides nutrition facts and support for regulatory compliance and inspections. It also helps clients improve their processing techniques and extend product shelf life, which allows for expanded market opportunities.

“Our fees are minimal, which helps keep costs low for new companies entering into the market,” said Eifert.

The program usually works with companies that have already developed a product and want to make sure that their processes are safe.

“If their product were to cause a foodborne illness, it is likely that they would not be able to overcome it,” said Eifert.

The Food Innovations Program has also expanded its mission to support established national and international companies.

“A lot of the food science research we are doing can help these companies,” Eifert said. “We are pairing our research expertise with companies that have related needs and looking at ways to translate our research into solutions.”