Bonduelle Fresh Americas has been a leader in producing innovative fresh food products since 1969. It was then that founder Dennis Gertmenian prepared his first customized fresh-cut salad order. Pressed for time, Gertmenian bought French knives, cutting boards and a bathtub for washing the produce, and prepared and delivered customized orders on a regular basis.
Today, the company, formerly known as Ready Pac Foods, produces an average of 700,000 pounds of finished product a day out of its approximately 472,000-square-foot Irwindale, Calif., plant. Bonduelle Fresh Americas also produces a wide array of fresh-cut, ready-to-eat salads and vegetables sold in retail and foodservice channels from its USDA-certified and QAI organic-certified processing plants in Florence, N.J.; Jackson, Ga.; Swedesboro, N.J. Bonduelle Fresh Americas also maintains an agricultural facility in Salinas, Calif., and a sales office in Bentonville, Ark.
This is Bonduelle Fresh Americas, the recipient of Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ 2019 Refrigerated Foods Processor of the Year award. Take a tour of the Irwindale plant, which encompasses the company’s patented triple-wash processing system and accelerated food safety standards.
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Sustainable salad making
Bonduelle Fresh Americas’ Irwindale plant features 24 manufacturing lines that produce fresh produce and fresh prepared meals, including bagged salads, salad kits, salad clamshells, bagged and rigid container apples (sliced, diced, peeled, unpeeled), snack trays, single-serve Bistro bowl salads (fresh prepared meals) and specialty items for foodservice (sliced and diced onions, sliced and diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, etc.)
Raw produce, such as leafy greens (romaine, iceberg and cabbage) and baby leaf (spinach and spring mix) come in fresh from the fields of Salinas, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz., depending on the season.
“Most of our raw, we’re utilizing either the next day of being harvested, no more than 3 days after, just because of the volume,” says Viviano Del Villar Jr., senior director of operations. “Sometimes on second shift, we might be running product that was harvested in the morning. So, very fresh.”
The produce is then dumped on sorting tables where operators manually inspect along the line, looking for defects, adding any ingredients or components, etc. Then, the produce conveys through an incline conveyor and into a cross-cutting machine that cuts the product into pre-determined sizes, i.e., 4x4, 3x4 or 1x1, depending on the product. Then, product drops into the company’s triple wash system, which Bonduelle Fresh Americas invented in 2001, and today, remains an industry standard.
Company: Bonduelle Fresh Americas
Plant Location: Irwindale, Calif.
Total Square Feet: Approximately 472,000
No. of Employees: 2,200 on-site
No. of Processing Lines: 24
Certifications: HACCP, GMP, QAI, USDA and allergens
From there, product enters the spin dryers to remove any excess moisture before passing through automatic scales that deposit the right amount of product into a bagger, which then flows out into a metal detector, a checkweigher and then straight into the shipping case.
The rigid container line runs retail and foodservice product and product in a bag.
“We can go from very small bags to large bags,” says Del Villar Jr. “And, then we have a rigid container, we call it the clamshell line. This is our newest wash line. It’s the most hygienically designed wash line that our vendor has manufactured or that they have out in the market. And, that’s because of the work that we did in conjunction and our collaboration with them on the specs and the build.”
The flow of raw is the same as above, but is fully automated and equipped with optical sorters that detect defects or foreign objects that might come through from the field, Del Villar Jr. adds.
At the time of Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ visit, the plant tour encompassed the apple line, which manufactures sliced apples, some with skin on, some with skin off, for retail and foodservice customers as well as ingredients in other product lines like Bistro Bowls. This line also follows the same process as above, where the raw product comes in and dumps into a water feeding system to get rinsed with water, however it then flows through water and feeds into the dicer-slicer-peeling machine. Then, the apples undergo the sorting process to remove defects, before conveying to a scale, checkweigher and bagging machine.
The Irwindale facility is also home to a tomato processing room and an onion processing room. In both instances, product is sliced and diced for foodservice or to be used as components in internal products.
The Ready Snax line entails a similar process as Bistro, but instead, produces a tray that is to be filled with different components, fruits and some dried goods like hummus or yogurt, then sealed and packaged.
The specialty line produces different kinds of produce commodities, including cucumbers, celery, broccoli, carrots and radishes to be utilized for foodservice products, sold directly to foodservice distributors or to be included as ingredients to internal products like Bistro Bowls.
And, the Chopped Salads line features blends of different produce ingredients that are all chopped together and go in a kit.
The Irwindale plant possesses 27 total docks, ships out about 80 trucks a day and receives about 60-70 inbound shipments a day.
Preserving the planet one package at a time
While Bonduelle Fresh Americas’ tagline may be “creating a better future through plant-based food,” the company also strives to preserve the planet and enhance sustainability practices.
For instance, Bonduelle Fresh Americas utilizes modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) to help keep produce fresher longer. It is said to run one of the most hygienic-designed baby leaf processing lines in the industry. Bonduelle Fresh Americas also updated its Irwindale plant with a cogeneration system, which produces electrical and thermal energy using a single energy source.
Other initiatives in place entail:
- Purchased an upgraded cogenerator that promises to dramatically lower electricity usage and decrease carbon dioxide equivalent.
- Installed energy efficient lighting and educating associates on energy conservation to further reduce environmental footprint.
- Reduced water consumption in one facility by 25% through raising employee awareness and investing in new control systems.
- Approximately 90% of Bonduelle Fresh Americas’ packaging materials are recyclable, composed of post-consumer recycled content and/or responsibly sourced.
- Joined a multi-stakeholder initiative to develop innovative solutions around sustainable packaging and circular economy.
- Deployed a waste management team to identify the causes of food waste, develop corrective action plans and enhance food recovery at all facilities
- Donated nearly a $1 million worth of meals to food banks and other philanthropic organizations to provide communities access to healthy and nutritious food.
- Delivered more than 38,000 meals to relief organizations to help satisfy food needs in the wake of multiple hurricanes.
- Organized World Cleanup Day events in all six facilities, raised over $90,000 for cancer research through employee-sponsored activities and volunteered at California’s City of Hope’s Walk for Hope.
Bonduelle Fresh Americas also employs accelerated food safety standards, such as a color-coding system plant-wide and customized boots to prevent slips and falls.
“We have made significant investments in [quality, environmental, health and safety] training platforms to ensure that we train our people with high-quality/high-impact content, and do so in a manner that promotes key requirements while minimizing downtime,” says Del Villar Jr. “Key investments include the use of the Alchemy Systems training platform, Gallagher Bassett Loss Control Services and other professional training vendors for manufacturing plants and key functions. Bonduelle Fresh Americas’ commitment to training is also supported by full-time training coordinators at manufacturing plants.”