It offers soups, sides, entrees and desserts. It draws upon nearly 400 different recipes and uses more than 100 of them each day. It only makes fresh foods made to order.
And if it was a restaurant, Sandridge Food Corp.’s plant would be the biggest and busiest in Medina, Ohio.

As it is, this 160,000-square-foot, USDA facility excels because it is flexible enough to meet the needs of foodservice, in-store deli and retail customers. It processes, packages and ships as many as 750 distinct SKU’s – not one of which is designed to last more than 45 days. Last but not least, operations officials closely coordinate the actions of nearly 450 workers in a 24-hour, six-day-a-week operation.

Company growth also meant the facility itself has had to grow. Officials say the Medina plant has expanded nearly every year and they have invested $20 million in capital projects during the last five years. In 2008, Sandridge completed a with a 26,000-square-foot finished product warehouse. This year, it added and customized another 7,000 square feet to house as many as three high-pressure processing (HPP) lines.

The to-do list continues. Sandridge is completing a smaller expansion in its prepared soups room, eyeing more retail packaging lines and contemplating new space to make its own pasta. It also has plans for a new culinary R&D center.

There have been even more changes and improvements. Throughout 2009, Sandridge examined and upgraded daily practices and processes in advance of a Safe Quality Food (SQF) 2000 Level 2 audit -- a certification it proudly earned in December of 2009. Meanwhile, company officials have been pushing a host of sustainability initiatives throughout both operations and transportation.

How do operations officials handle so much product, process and facility change? A former home builder, Jim Meadows has advanced through nearly every operations position to his current role as vice president of facilities and process improvements. Having joined Sandridge in 1985, he has known the twists and turns.

“A key part of our success has been a relentless drive to continuously improve our operations,” he says. “Sandridge has listed it among its core ethics and values and it has grown within our culture to be more than just words. It has been accompanied by significant actions.

“We have a well thought-out strategic plan tied to specific annual initiatives,” he continues. “We’ve combined this with many tools, such as Lean Manufacturing, and have seen remarkable improvement across almost every key performance indicator. In the end, it works because leadership in all departments create that strategic plan. This way, we’ve aligned all departments to drive improvements in targeted areas.”

Speaking of alignment, Meadows has long known that Mark Sandridge was interested in HPP. It’s here that Sandridge himself, picks up the story.

“We have always tried to be at the forefront of innovation in our industry. HPP technology has been on our radar screen for about 15 years,” he notes. “We visited a Hormel [Foods Corp.] plant in Minnesota in the mid-90s to explore possibility of HPP for our products. At that time, the only machines available were vertical units. These were very large and not economically viable for us. However, with the invention of the horizontal machines, throughput is increased and they are easier to install and operate.”

Sandridge says his company has North America’s largest HPP unit and has space to house two more machines in a dedicated clean room featuring all-stainless steel walls and ceiling.

The HPP process involves finished products packed in flexible bags or rigid containers with an inner seal. HPP employees load these bags or containers into special HPP process canisters and then direct these canisters into a high pressure chamber filled with cold water (which is pressurized with a pump). An equal amount of pressure is transmitted through the package into the food itself. Pressure is applied for a specific time, usually three to five minutes.

Mark Sandridge says that – because the pressure is transmitted uniformly (in all directions simultaneously) – food retains its shape, even at extreme pressures. And because no heat is needed, the process maintains a product’s sensory characteristics while it kills harmful bacteria. Bacteria are inactivated at levels of 58,000-87,000 psi and water temperatures of less than 45