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A Cut Above the Rest

Tue, 05/07/2013 - 12:11pm
Krystal Gabert, Editor

This article originally ran in the May 2013 issue of Food Manufacturing.

Tucked away in Pascoag, R.I., Daniele, Inc. is using innovative technology to extend shelf-life, ensure food safety and expand the reach of its sausage and cured meat products to a growing base of consumers.

Perhaps an unlikely find in quiet, small-town Rhode Island, Daniele, Inc. has been making sausages in the region for nearly 40 years. But its roots stretch much farther.

The company, now a third-generation family-owned company, can trace its roots to World War II-era Italy, where Croatian refugee Stefano Dukcevich, along with his wife Carolina, began making and selling sausages. The pair grew their little business, eventually opening several sausage-making factories and training their son, Vlado, in the business.

In the mid-1970s, Vlado came to the U.S. to introduce real prosciutto to the American consumer. Though prosciutto had long existed in the U.S., the taste was inauthentic — it “tastes like a baked ham,” according to Michael DeCesare, Daniele Foods’ Food Safety Director. Vlado aimed to change all that.

And Vlado’s gamble paid off. While at the helm of Daniele, Inc., he successfully grew the business and eventually opened a second processing facility to keep up with growing demand for his authentic sausage products.

Growth and expansion

Vlado eventually passed along operation of the company to his sons, Stefano and Davide Dukcevich. The brothers have continued the business’ upward trajectory, opening a third processing facility in 2004. That facility is now operating at capacity, and the company is building an expansion, expected to be completed next year.

Operating three facilities means keeping an eye on logistics. Each of the company’s facilities has a focused area of products it manufactures. The oldest facility cures and packages traditional cured meats like prosciutto, American-style prosciutto (for consumers looking for a  less traditional flavor), mortadella, dry-cured capocollo, pancetta and bresaola.

The smallest facility, the expansion built by Vlado, is located directly across the street and handles the company’s specialty items like mozzarella-wrapped prosciutto and salami, and provolone- and prosciutto-stuffed cherry peppers.

This sampling is from Daniele's line of locally sourced, processed and packaged meats.

And the company’s newest facility, located just down the road from the two existing buildings, traffics almost exclusively in salami, the company’s largest and fastest growing market. The facility produces around 200,000 pounds of salami each week.

From these facilities, product is shipped across the U.S. and exported throughout the world. With a mix of private label and Daniele-branded products, Daniele, Inc. sells to all major club stores and Wal-Mart in addition to local and national grocery chains around the country.

Food safety first

“We have a very extensive and aggressive food safety program,” says DeCesare. The company contracts with an outside laboratory to work on site. The laboratory is set up in a trailer outside and accessible to Daniele’s three facilities. The lab tests samples from each batch produced at the facility for salmonella and listeria, and Daniele holds lots for shipment until clean samples are returned.

In addition to strict testing controls, Daniele Foods performs comprehensive environmental testing in each of its three facilities, monitoring the facilities for the presence of pathogens. As a part of this program, points throughout the facilities are randomly selected, swabbed and tested for the presence of listeria.

In 2012 the company invested in a high pressure processing (HPP) machine for its high production salami processing facility. DeCesare calls HPP “one of the most sophisticated ways to help reduce the chances of contamination on finished product.”

The machine acts by applying pressure to finished, packaged goods. After processing and packaging, food products are loaded into small chambers which are then submerged within the HPP machine and pressurized. The pressure kills any pathogens that may be within the package without changing the nature of the product the way typical heat pasteurization might.

Daniele looks at this technology as a final checkpoint in what is a very safe process. “We make a product,” says DeCesare, “that employs multiple hurdle technology, which means there are many layers that go into making salami — or any of our dry-cured items — that, when stacked upon one another, make it very difficult for pathogens to overcome and survive.

“Of course,” he continues, “you still have to work in a safe and clean environment.” The company has a variety of food safety controls established throughout the facility in a food safety program that includes things like an antimicrobial foot bath at the entry point for workers, a comprehensive food safety training program and a color-coded safety system meant to identify which workers are meant to be present in different parts of the facility in an effort to prevent cross contamination throughout the various stages of the process.

“Stefano, the company’s president, is always pushing us to be better,” says DeCesare. “’How can we be better than everybody else and make our product better and safer for the consumer?’ HPP is a technology that is the best that there can be outside of irradiation to ensure that your product is protected against outside contamination.”

DeCesare says that the addition of HPP to the facility has added to the overall quality of Daniele Foods’ products, not just through the food safety assurance it provides, but because of the extended shelf life that has been delivered through the HPP process. “On some products, it can triple the shelf life,” says DeCesare, a realization that has had broad-reaching implications for both shelf life and safety, but also for distribution and storage.

“We try to be on the cutting edge of science and safety,” says DeCesare.

Cured!

Daniele, Inc. salami is produced according to traditional methods. After ground meat is blended with the appropriate spices and stuffed into casings, it is transported to large, temperature-controlled rooms where it begins the fermentation process.

During this stage, the lactic acid starter cultures enhance the flavor of the meat and kill off any harmful pathogens that may be present. DeCesare calls this stage “a period of rapid reduction of pH in the product to help eliminate pathogens.”

Daniele's latest expansion project is slated for completion in the spring of 2014.

Once this process is complete, the sausage enters the drying stage where water is removed from the product. Low water activity means lower bacteria count, so this drying process — in combination with  the salt and active cultures — help create a very safe product.

Dry-curing requires a fluctuation between warm airflow and a relaxation stage. The former helps dry the product, while the latter allows water to come to the surface. As these stages are repeated — draw out moisture, dry it out, draw out moisture, dry it out — the inside of the product gets drier over time.

DeCesare says the process must be gradual. “You can’t dry it out too quickly or you form a crust, and then the water can’t get out. It has to happen slowly. It’s a delicate balance of airflow and balance.”

Toward the end of the curing process — about three weeks — the salami should be covered in a layer of mold. The mold will help raise the pH of the product and counteract the bitterness that will develop during fermentation. It also aids in the drying process.

After the curing process is complete, the mold is cleansed from the sausage, and the product is ready to be sliced and packaged. Daniele produces sausage in partial-logs, full logs and sliced packages. “The sliced market has grown exponentially,” says DeCesare, “because people like the convenience of having something ready to go.”

All products are vacuum packed before being run through a metal detector and boxed.

Buy local

Though Daniele’s footprint is large and international, its roots are planted firmly in Rhode Island. To celebrate its community, the company recently launched a Rhode Island-centric line of cured meats.

Though a small portion of the company’s total output, these products take “buy local” to a new level. Daniele, of course a Rhode Island business itself, worked with a local slaughterhouse to source livestock from Rhode Island and throughout New England for the line. Daniele also reached out to the Rhode Island design community, working with Rhode Island School of Design on the products’ packaging design. Johnson & Wales, a Rhode Island culinary school, helped design the recipes.

Daniele, located outside what is traditionally thought of as the food belt, sees the line as a way to celebrate the rich food culture in Rhode Island. “It’s important to support local farmers,” says DeCesare. And through this collaborative effort, Daniele is infusing all aspects of the food production supply chain with a “buy local” mentality.

Upward trajectory

Daniele, Inc. is prepared for continued growth. The expansion project currently underway will extend processing space to make room for additional drying rooms and packaging lines for the company’s salami processing operations. But the parcel of land on which the facility sits leaves room for even more growth.

With a modern, modular design, the new addition will be constructed to make future expansions seamless. With a company so passionate about making good, traditional product in a food safe environment, continued growth seems inevitable.

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