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H. Brooks developing in several ways

NEW BRIGHTON, MN — H. Brooks & Co. LLC is continuing a focus on food safety and innovation. “It is a continuation of what we do,” said Phillip Brooks, chief executive officer of the firm, based here. “Our emphasis is how to help people who work with us through the supply chain to sell more products that are healthy, taste great and are food-safe.” Brooks said these three factors are all critical points of emphasis for his firm.

In addition to packaging and ripening, H. Brooks features high-quality fresh-cut items, and acts as a hub for local produce. “We are thankful for all the people working with us — our customers, partners and vendors. It’s a great group we’re working with. We’re looking forward to a great 2014.”

Brooks said not all of his firm’s new products are fresh-cut. “We have a line that we just introduced that is ready-to-cook side dishes. They are fabulous and made ‘just in time’ for people” to consume. One of these is a prepared side dish of potatoes with fresh seasoning ingredients.

A popular traditional H. Brooks prepared item is a “wonderful caramel apple” that is made with “retooled caramel dating to a 1958 recipe. This is the 55th year that we used the award-winning recipe.” The originator of the caramel recipe was near the end of his career when he shared the recipe with H. Brooks & Co. Some of the ingredients had to change to keep up with the times and the packaging is updated, but the package graphics use 1958 clown artwork. Brooks noted, “This was one of our best years ever” for caramel apple sales.

Brooks said his firm first made a major commitment to engage in food-safety practices in the late 1990s. That work became more widely appreciated after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks raised food security concerns.

“We have a top-notch food-safety department. We are in the top one percent of all companies in terms of food-safety scores,” Brooks said. The food-safety procedures involve all the major standards, such as PTI and GlobalGAP. The firm is also certified-organic and certified-kosher.

Brooks works with local and national growers to apply the proper food-safety procedures.

Effective Jan. 13, 2013, Phillip Brooks accepted an invitation to be on the steering committee of the Minnesota Food Charter. The group works to ensure that Minnesotans have healthy, affordable and safe food and build a legacy of good health for future generations. The Food Charter is supported by the Statewide Health Improvement Program and the Minnesota Department of Health and made possible with funding from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

“We are working to get more healthy foods in the system,” he said. The effort involves the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Women, Infants & Children program, as well as school foodservice education programs, first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! program and the school salad bar initiative prompted by the United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association.

Brooks said the steering committee is addressing a wide variety of questions with the goal of the betterment of different consumer — and food production and distribution — categories. Brooks is the only produce industry member on the steering committee.

Since joining the committee, “I have tried to practice what I have learned and I’ve lost 80 pounds in the last year,” Brooks said. “I learned a lot about food” beyond a lifetime of working in the produce business. The work ties into H. Brooks’ goal of helping consumers find healthy foods that taste great.