SCHENECTADY — Food companies, perhaps more so than any other industry, depend upon consumers’ confidence in their products — something to which fast-food chain Chipotle can attest.
Unlike Chipolte, the story of Casa Visco is far from a Dickensian-tale, as the circumstances that continue to play out for the struggling restaurant chain contrasts with that of the local food processor owned and operated by Adine Viscusi, president of Casa Visco.
Chipolte continues to struggle as it tries to win back its customers’ trust after a series of food poisoning outbreaks last year. Customers were exposed to e coli and norovirus from poorly handled food. Several months later, despite giveaways, daily inspections and an aggressive public relations to publicize its revamped safety procedures, sales are still weak.
And, that’s how the misfortunes of one company is separated by the fortunes of another.
The details of how meticulous Viscusi is with food safety can be best shared through an outsider’s observations.
The Viscusi family hosted a foreign exchange student last year. After expressing interest in seeing Casa Visco’s base of operations, he witnessed first-hand why Viscusi lists herself as head bottle washer. She recalled how her guest shared the details of the day with her husband at the dinner table that evening after a day in the processing facility, which started at 6:30 a.m.,
“She was really washing bottles,” Viscusi recalled him saying. “She was scraping the tomatoes out of the barrel, and she was literally inspecting bottles as they went by. I’m sure they really don’t enjoy when she’s up there all that much.”
Over the last several years, Casa Visco has instilled safety and quality measures company-wide, while simultaneously educating and engaging consumers. Viscusi believes that it’s imperative for consumers to read the food labels of the products they purchase, and to buy locally sourced foods.
“We try to encourage people to read food labels carefully, and to try to avoid highly processed food,” said Viscusi. “The risks are probably higher in produce, meats and seafood than in center store items. I think there is a growing distrust of highly processed food and big conglomerates mass-producing it. Therefore, buying closer to home, knowing your local farmer(s), shopping at your local food market(s) and supporting local manufacturing are all very helpful steps in bringing the best quality food home.”
There are an overwhelming amount of variables that factor into food safety — from the most basic fundamental step of washing hands, to adhering to the regulations dispersed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
But, Viscusi said, even that is not enough.
Casa Visco is also preparing for the Food Safety Modernization Act that becomes effective in 2017. It brings an additional level of food safety to the table.
Currently, the FDA does not mandate listing sugar on the nutritional labels, although that is supposed to change in the future. The United States doesn’t have a national labeling law or standard regarding the term ‘Natural’ and Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) labeling is more of a statewide effort rather than an industry or national standard. It’s important to note that food recalls are voluntary – not mandatory.
Casa Visco employs a rigorous food safety standard called the “Safe Quality Food Program,” known in today’s food industry as the gold standard of third-party quality programs. Casa Visco hires a third-party to audit its food safety measures.
“The most important aspect of a home cook, or especially a food processor, is to make sure the food is safe and wholesome,” said Viscusi, who is pushing her own company to follow rules more stringent that federal mandates. “it is the main tenant of our mission statement which is to provide safe, wholesome food,” she said.