International freeze-dried food company Chaucer Foods opened its first U.S. manufacturing facility in Forest Grove, Ore.
The company invested $14 million to renovate the 84,600-square-foot former tool factory, and virtually everything in the plant is brand new, from the freeze drying tunnels to the walls.
The plant, located at 2238 Yew St., created 73 jobs, and is operating in full swing. Tentative expansion plans include buying from local fruit producers in season, according to Steven Childs, assistant production manager.
For now, the process of freeze drying fruit will cycle through its various steps for 24 hours a day in the factory. Frozen fruit comes in on trucks and is re-frozen at -40°F. Employees then lay the fruit out on trays and guide several at a time along ceiling-mounted tracks into a freeze drying "tunnel." Here, the fruit undergoes sublimation, a process in which ice transitions directly from a solid to a gas without melting into water.
This step is what separates freeze-dried food from dehydrated food because the fruit is dried without ever getting truly wet. Therefore, it's able to maintain its flavor and texture properties in a way that dehydrated food dehydrated cannot.
Chaucer Foods is based in the United Kingdom.