“We make use of ‘surprise inspections’ at our production site,” said Ozawa, hygiene and quality manager at Spread. Occasionally, we’d test workers by checking whether they sufficiently rinsed themselves, to avoid any case of contamination. Workers that are found at the production site are first measured for body temperature and cleansed by an air shower before entering the cultivation area.
Ozawa joined Spread in 2013, given his experience in hygiene and quality management at food processing facilities. He eventually decided to bring his experience into vertical farming where nowadays, Ozawa is in charge of the hygiene procedures for all Spread's facilities. As the Quality Control Manager, Mr. Ozawa oversees Spread’s Kameoka Plant and the Techno Farm Keihanna.
Ozawa noted that Spread is particularly recognized for its product quality. Spread’s strict hygiene standard might be hard to live up to for the other farms. Spread’s hygiene management will be required of vertical farms since vertical farming allows much more control over the growing environment. In early 2000, due to a series of unfortunate events in food production, the demand for food safety in Japan has surged ever since.
“We are introducing hygiene aspects to all parts of the farm, including both "hardware", meaning tangible parts, such as equipment and building layout, and "software", meaning things like education, monitoring and hygiene know-how, incorporating the hygiene perspective ever since building Kameoka Plant in 2007. For example, we would separate the cultivation area from other parts, implementing ‘clean areas’ and ‘unclean areas’ in terms of food processing industry,” Ozawa notes.
The cleaning area is therefore separated from up the cultivation part, from employees before entering the facility. In terms of “software”, the farm is constantly being analyzed on the bacterial count. Therefore, Ozawa and his team are in charge of the quality control at the farm to implement all these measures. He educated employees on hygiene measures that have to be acknowledged in-house.
Spread's Techno Farm Keihanna
Plans for 2021
Spread has several goals set for the near future. Currently, several types of research are conducted on strawberries and baby leaves. Whereas recently the company developed a processing technology for cut lettuce, using its vertically farmed lettuce, which allows for shelf life extension. The processing technology minimizes bacteria development and change of color in cut lettuce, as well as allows for the reduction in water usage and waste. Spread is scheduling the realization and shipment of the products that implement this technology to be in early 2022.
Next to that, the company wants to start operations at its Techno Farm Narita, which is Spread’s first franchise project with J Leaf Corporation. J Leaf is a member of Eneos Group, a large group of companies involved in the energy business. The group is known for having the largest share in the oil business in Japan. Globally, Spread aims to continue negotiations with partners in North America, Europe and the Middle East, including business development.
One of Spread’s team members said that Spread’s unique feature is that it’s a great combination of managements, including large-scale production, sales and R&D. Stable and high-efficient production at a large scale allowed Kameoka Plant to achieve profitability ever since 2013, without government support. The company is actively investing in R&D, developing in-house technologies for different kinds of products. Throughout Japan, Spread is supplying approximately 4000 stores nationally. As of now, Spread offers three different lettuce varieties to its retail partners. The company has sold over 70 million packages of its fresh produce.
The company has a long-lasting partnership with an in-flight catering company to supply fresh salads in-air. According to Spread, the company is strict on hygiene and quality management, which makes the partnership a good fit.
Spread's product range
Ozawa notes that food safety, especially fresh produce, is recognized as an important issue. “Vertical farms can be the solution to it given their total control on the growing environment. Yet, even in Japan, there was no hygiene standard or a more common one to regulate these measures,” he notes. Due to these needs, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has established the JAS0012 certificate in 2019. It’s the first standard in the world focusing on hygiene and cultivation management in vertical farms exclusively. “We want to show clients that our produce is safe, using hygiene standards and hygiene management. The certificate provided a third-party evaluation of the production system,” he adds.
The certificate will create more reliability towards clients and adds more credibility to vertical farmers as a whole. It also gives consumers a criterion for vertically farmed production, rating the produce quality. Therefore, Spread is expecting a general improvement of vertical farming produce given the newly introduced standard. The certificate mainly targets the Japanese vertical farming scene. “Although, it’s a good tendency of such standards coming up. We’re proud that Japan is leading the way in this. Through our global business development, Spread will contribute to global food safety through the certified produce,” added Yurii Voronkov from Spread’s Corporate Communication. “Spread is excited to witness the market growth and development globally. It’s very different from when the company started business in 2006.”
The certificate doesn’t set a new miracle standard, but it helps the vertical farming space to comply with different standards for processing food companies. “We believe that our farms are very flexible in meeting these high standards,” Yurii noted. In all processes, the company implies working sustainably. Spread strives to be sustainable in technology use, product development and throughout its business model.
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Spread Co., Ltd.