Alaskan Food Plant Gets Back to Nature

Alaskan Food Plant Gets Back to NatureWhile most of North America trends toward more processed food with lower nutritional value, the town of Kotzebue, Alaska is headed a different route with its new processing plant: The Siglauq. Taken from the traditional Inupiat word for cold, underground storage systems The Siglauq will allow local hunters to kill and then donate animals for use in the local seniors’ center. It’s a bold plan that will help many older residents retain their subsistence lifestyle—but how do plant operators make sure they’re still meeting federal health standards?

What’s Old Is New Again?

According to Val Kreil, administrator of Kotzebue’s nursing home—run by tribally-operated health and social services organization The Maniilaq Assocation—the new traditional food processing plant lets the home “serve items such as moose, caribou, sheefish, salmon, ptarmigan, and geese,” and also allows these foods to be distributed among the community at large. The idea behind The Siglauq is a continuance of subsistence living; many residents have always eaten meat from animals they personally hunted or were hunted by friends of the family, and have no desire to suddenly transition away from this model of eating to one of highly processed and non-local foods. A facility equipped to safely handle locally hunted game should allow the Association to improve seniors’ quality of life without risking their health by serving improperly cooked or cured food.

Overcoming Obstacles

But the road from concept to completion wasn’t easy. The Association spent years negotiating with both state and federal agencies for permission to open their facility—for example, they spend considerable time petitioning former senator Mark Begich to amend the Farm Bill which made it possible for traditional foods to be donated, processed and then served in public facilities such as nursing homes, schools, and hospitals.

Now that the facility is up and running, however, there’s another challenge on the horizon: Keeping equipment clean and safe. According to Goodway Technologies product specialist Evan Reyes, for example, meat slicers are leading sources of disease-harboring “biofilm” in processing plants—and in The Siglauq, meat from multiple animals will be regularly processed and then packaged for serving.

What’s more, the supply chain for this meat isn’t the same as a more mainstream plant since it comes from local hunters rather than corporations. As a result, the Association will need to put controls in place which can identify any sub-par proteins handed over by residents. Ideally, the processing plant should make use of new dry-steam technologies to remove biofilm, followed by regular use of spray and wipe-on sanitizers. Combined with solid oversight from Association admins, The Siglauq could do a world of good for Kotzebue residents hoping to nurture the unique connection between nature and nourishment.

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