North Dakota gets mobile food processing unit

News release from the Ag Department:

North Dakota’s new Mobile Food Processing Unit is a fully-equipped, commercial kitchen on wheels for schools, food banks, community gardens, businesses and entrepreneurs.

“The Mobile Food Processing Unit presents a multitude of possibilities for the production, processing and promotion of North Dakota foods,” Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said in a statement.  “It can be used to process local fruits and vegetables for farm-to-school programs, test recipes for development of new North Dakota products, produce samples for taste testing of new products, teach food safety education and more.”

Goehring said the unit will be available to both public and private entities.

“We expect that one of the first uses will be to work with schools interested in extending the local harvest by processing fruits and vegetables for use during the winter,” Goehring said. “Wherever it goes, it will promote North Dakota agriculture and North Dakota foods.”

The 8.5 x 24-foot trailer is equipped with a six-burner convection oven, a fryer, a griddle, a 22-cubic foot freezer,  a 22-cubic foot refrigerator and four stainless steel sinks. The unit can be independently operated at any location, thanks to a 50-amp generator.

“Public health officials, school lunch administrators and other experts helped design the unit and select the equipment for maximum efficiency and to meet state health standards,” Goehring said.

Total cost at present is $42,000.

“Thanks to the generosity of the North Dakota Soybean Council, Northarvest Bean Growers Association and the Northern Pulse Growers Association more than $65,000 has been raised for this project,” Goehring said.

The unit is owned by the North Dakota Department of Agriculture and will be located in Bismarck.

The agriculture department is planning to spend up to $20,000 to fully equip the unit with flash freezing, dehydration and packaging equipment.

Goehring said the partners in the Local Food Initiative would meet later Thursday to discuss  rental rates for private company use and upcoming events to showcase the unit.

The partners include the North Dakota State University Extension Service, the North Dakota Farmers Market and Growers Association, Dakota Community College Entrepreneurial Center for Horticulture, Lutheran Social Services Great Plains Food Bank, Pride of Dakota member companies, Healthy North Dakota and the Northern Plains Sustainable Ag Society.

 “We hope to increase awareness of and demand for the unit,” Goehring said. “We will also be developing and scheduling food safety education events for people using the unit.”

A fund has been established with the North Dakota Community Foundation for people or entities that wish to contribute toward the operation of the Mobile Food Processing Unit.         

Goehring said the agriculture department contracted N. C. Doty and Associates of Fargo in April 2009 to study the economic and technical feasibility of a mobile food processing unit.

“The study centered on the growing trend of production and processing of locally grown food throughout North Dakota,” the commissioner said. “The operational objective was to have such a unit aid in food related economic development across the state.” 

The study focused on processing foods with limited food safety risks, such as high acid fruits and vegetables, low moisture grains, oilseeds and confections. It did not address the higher risk foods, such as meat and dairy products. 

In a telephone survey, state and local health inspectors unanimously agreed the operation of a mobile food processing unit in North Dakota would be technically feasible provided the unit and its operators passed inspection.

“Once the feasibility study came back with a positive recommendation, we went ahead with the design and fundraising and the contracting for the unit,” Goehring said.

Upcoming stops for the Mobile Food Processing Unit are the Minot Farmers Market Festival, Aug. 21; the Farmers Market at the Capitol, Sept. 1;  and the Dickinson Harvest Showcase, Sept. 18-19.

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