Filling, sealing, bagging

By Louise FitzRoy

The next time you’re snacking on a flight take a closer look at the food’s packaging. Westcare has just secured a contract with a major airline’s catering division to pack its inflight beverage service items.

RMITThe not-for-profit organisation has been providing quality employment, training and accommodation for people with a disability since 1947. Six years ago, the Perth-based agency became certified with Australian Certified Organic as a processor due to customer demand for the packing of goods.

Business development manager, Richard Swanson, says Westcare decided to organically certify the business in the hope of securing more work.

Richard says, “We were approached by a company in regards to packing organic salt. It prompted us to become certified and the next thing we knew we had five tonnes of salt needing to be decanted into 250 gram bags for the major supermarkets.”

“We pack, bottle and box organic foods such as salt, chilli sauce, olive oils, truffle oil, chia seeds, tea, psyllium husk and quinoa for a number of local producers in WA. We receive the goods in bulk and then pack it according to our customers’ specifications.”

Westcare’s organically certified packed items can be found in some health and gourmet food stores as well as chemists and supermarkets.

About 110 supported employees work in the agency’s four divisions – Foodpak, Safety, Print and Box – at their two sites based in Nedlands and Bassendean.

Richard says, “Westcare is actually one of the highest payers in the Australian Disability Enterprise framework.”

Supervisors and support workers are there to operate the production floor and assist supported employees to understand the tasks that need to be done and provide encouragement and guidance.

Richard says, “One moment they’re [employees] packing salt and the next moment they’re packing medical kits or making high visibility vests and shirts for engineering, automotive and mining companies like BHP and Rio Tinto.”

Kara has worked at Westcare for nine years and says it’s good to have a job because of limited opportunities in the workforce. She says, “I enjoy the people and like the variety of work.”

Paul has been with Westcare for 10 years and says the range of jobs performed make for an interesting challenge. “I am proud to tell people of the products and customers that Westcare packs for. Packing for an airline makes me proud and I like pointing out to people when a plane goes past that I have helped pack the items that are on that plane.”

Despite serving hundreds of clients in the past 67 years, Richard says that only about 20 per cent of what is packed in the Foodpak Division is certified organic.

“There is currently not a huge demand for certified organic packing.”

To receive organic certification, Richard says the processor needed to have a food safety management system in place. A range of extra policies and procedures from how goods are handled and stored through to equipment maintenance and workflows also needed to be put in place and audited to identify the differences in packing organic products compared with conventional.

Richard says, “Having HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points) approval assisted us with the organic certification process. Every year we get audited for HACCP and organic certification as well as ISO 9001. The auditor examines our documentation, goods received, storage, packing record and quality control, and checks taken every 15 minutes, and observes any recalls or customer complaints to make sure we’ve handled these correctly.”

“Once organic certification is in place and our practices have been approved it is not a problem to maintain. Across our workplace we have a quality assurance officer who is responsible for ensuring we meet our external audit requirements and who does regular internal audits and things such as mock recalls.”

The organisation is examining the demand for organic packing in the marketplace and the viability of maintaining certification.

General manager, Nadia Halliday, says, “We are currently reviewing the need in the Western Australian marketplace for the type of organic packing that we do. It is an area that we are happy to market and would like to grow in our business but must weigh up the benefits and costs attached. The first step is to reach out and let people know we are here and that it’s a service we offer.”