Yesterday, I participated in a meeting on our Walmart packaging design and shelf life certification project. And in retrospect, I wish I could have prepared for it by pre-purchasing a giant bottle of wine to open immediately after the meeting finished.
Seriously, it took my brain a full 24 hours to process through the information in a way that I could coherently discuss the potential issues in this project with another person. Even those closest to me were waitlisted for conversation, but I think I'm ready now...so hold on tight while we work through this...
The dough has not been tested in the vacuum sealer yet. This is because there is apparently only ONE vacuum sealer/nitrogen flushing machine in America and it is in a showroom in California. So we have a small issue of how to get the dough to California under a temperature controlled setting and then have the box opened, the dough held to the correct temperature specifications, the dough then sealed in the machine in accordance with our packaging plan, and finally re-boxed and shipped next day air to Wheeling, Illinois for the shelf life certification testing to start.
(I have several thoughts about this, mainly...there is a showroom for this sort of machine? I offered to fly the dough to this elusive showroom but we still run into a "how do we guarantee that it holds at a certain temperature?" problem. We can buy a device that measures and records the temperature in the box from the time it leaves Columbia to California and then one from California from Illinois. At least, I've been told we can. I'm not sure how to Google it because I don't know what you call it and they probably cost $750 each and purchasing one lands you on a Homeland Security watchlist.)
Assuming we get 12 pie shells in a temperature controlled environment from Missouri to California to Illinois, we need to provide the lab with our best practices information. In short, we'll need to tell them exactly how we make the dough, right down to how we sanitize our dishes and our tables and our rolling pins.
(I have several thoughts on this...mainly, I'm not super hip on writing down the dough recipe because it is a secret. Also, answering "we clean everything every single day within an inch of its life or Jeanne has a total fit" seems like an odd response to provide to a scientific corporation.)
We would need to be able to trace every batch of the dough to the exact ingredient used. For example, if we use 12 cups of flour from a bag of General Mills flour purchased from Sysco, we will need to be able to identify the serial number on that bag and the purchase & delivery date from Sysco of that particular bag (and the same would hold true for the salt and shortening). We would also need to mark the time we start making a batch and the time we finish that particular batch and the people/persons involved in the production.
(I have several thoughts on this...mainly, HAVE THEY MET US? REALLY?)
Let's assume we can solve all issues listed above (because I'm sure we can, if we put a little thought into it). We will also need to provide all the information to the lab regarding our cold storage for the rolled, completed pie shells. And also document the temperature in the transport unit to the Walmart distribution center. And then a descriptor of what happens to the dough once Walmart signs for it.
(I have no thoughts on any of this, actually. Primarily because I haven't even thought this far out.)
A little overwhelming, right? Completely possible, but indeed a bit overwhelming as we head into our fall baking season. I wonder if the lab would notice if I listed "drink wine" in the best practices sheet...