Scranton pizza shop expands its market

SCRANTON -- The buzz for Sheila Ness' take and bake pizza has spread from her small town of Scranton. Stores around the area started calling her to request if they could start selling it themselves.

SCRANTON -- The buzz for Sheila Ness' take and bake pizza has spread from her small town of Scranton. Stores around the area started calling her to request if they could start selling it themselves.

"It's convenient. I know what people like about (my pizza) is that you can cook it at home when you're ready to eat," Ness said.

Ness, who has owned Next Door Pizza in Scranton since 1991, said she was eager to start selling her product outside Scranton, but ran into a problem around Easter weekend.

It is illegal to distribute wholesale products to other retail establishments without state certification.

So after three months of inspection, Next Door Pizza recently became the newest North Dakota company to operate under the State Meat and Poultry Inspection Program.


"Next Door Pizza in Scranton has met all requirements for the meat inspection program," said Roger Johnson, North Dakota agriculture commissioner, in a press release.

Ness said she felt the inspection process was normal and never felt afraid she would fail inspection.

Dr. Andrea Grondahl, a state meat inspector, who with others, helped Ness meet standards, said companies seeking certification must pass facility requirements and two specific regulatory requirements - written Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) and Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs) reports.

Grondahl said the program was established by the state legislature in 1999 and implemented in 2000. The program was developed to give smaller companies the chance to sell their product to other retailers without having to pass complicated federal inspection procedures. She said state-run inspection procedures are less daunting and complicated to small businesses and can also offer a more technical examination.

"The purpose (for inspection) is to provide inspection and regulatory oversight to the meat processing industry in North Dakota, so meat and poultry products in North Dakota are wholesome and properly labeled," she said.

Grondahl said HACCP is a science-based approach concerning a series of steps about how a company produces specific products. Companies must point out possible health/safety issues with each step and explain how they will deal with these issues.

A SSOP explains procedures concerning a company's daily cleaning, scheduled maintenance, food handling practices and overall employee hygiene.

Ness said she only needed to change a few things about her production, notably having to clarify ingredients and their weight for food labeling and needing to purchase a stainless steel table.


Next Door Pizza now sells their take and bake pizzas to several locations in the area, including Frontier Travel in Bowman, Scranton Equity Farm and Fuel, the Main Bar in Scranton and Kennedy's Fresh Foods in Hettinger.

Ness said she also has received offers from New England and the Bowman Golf Course.

Kennedy's Fresh Foods manager, Kyle Kennedy, said after an attempt at selling their own take and bake pizzas, he is satisfied about how Next Door Pizza has been selling.

"I think it's a great opportunity for them and the businesses supporting the product," he said. "I think it's great that independent, locally-owned countries are able to expand their business without needing a recognized name to back them."

Ness said she would like to begin selling pizza to neighboring states, but cannot do so under current law.

Sen. Kent Conrad and Rep. Earl Pomeroy have both introduced bills in the U.S. Congress pushing for state-certified businesses to be allowed to sell their products nationwide, which according to Grondahl is starting to gain steam and might pass this year.

"It really is an unfair issue, as state inspection policies have to be just as tough and thorough as federal policies," Grondahl said.

Fourteen North Dakota companies operate under the State Meat and Poultry Inspection Program, with several others working on certification.

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