Madison's Underground Food Collective received national recognition when it decided to release a food safety document into the public domain to help other small-scale producers meet federal safety requirements.
Now, the company has teamed up with other groups to take things a step further with a new project. The Open Source Food Safety initiative on Wednesday launched a website for sharing and discussing the safety plans that the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires for food production facilities.
"Sharing information could be something that's really useful for the food economy, for small producers," said the collective's co-founder Jonny Hunter. "It's in everyone's best interest."
The documents in question are known as Hazards Analysis and Critical Control Points plans, and have become a default way of outlining food safety protocols at food production facilities. Hunter said that for small producers, hiring a consultant and conducting research to figure out a plan can be pricey.
That's why UFC — a network that includes the restaurant Forequarter, a butchery, a cured meat production facility, and a catering service — launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 to finance its own plan, which it then released to the public under a Creative Commons license. Typically, companies treat such plans as proprietary information.
Since the plan was released, Hunter estimates that he's received many emails from other food producers, and has worked with 20 other plants to help them meet food safety requirements. He said he realized that simply posting UFC's model online wasn't enough.
The creation of the new forum lets producers publish their plans, comment on what others have come up with, and look at other resources on food safety. The website part of a broader movement to make software and other resources "open source" — free to the public to use, redistribute and modify.
Hunter stressed that while the project may be an evolution of UFC's prior work, the new website isn't an Underground project.
"This project is separate from Underground," said Hunter. "We see it as a public good project … in the same way that Wikipedia works."
In addition to UFC, the Open Source Food Safety initiative includes the Sarapis Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to open-source projects for the public good, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for the Humanities, whose fellow Rachel Boothby helped spearhead the project along with the media producer Emily Julka.
Hunter noted that the open-source approach to food production could work in other areas too.
"If people knew more about food science, they might know why the product tastes good," he said.
Meanwhile, UFC has been enjoying the fruits of its own facility's USDA certification. The company is now shipping fermented meats to four states outside of Wisconsin, and counting.