La Huerta, a Mexico-based processor of frozen fruits and vegetables, keeps up with rising demand by continually expanding. In fact, it added a third production line in 2016, and its fifth automated packaging line in September 2018. When expanding and adding lines, La Huerta looks for world-class performance, including superior sanitation and rugged reliability. That’s why it turned to Key Technology, Walla Walla, Wash.

“Every year, the demand for food safety gets stricter, with higher standards for microbiology and sanitation and more requests for audits. In this environment, our relentless focus on quality sets us apart,” says Carlos Gutierrez, plant manager at La Huerta. “Our equipment from Key helps us achieve our high product quality objectives at the same time it increases our efficiencies by maximizing uptime and reducing labor.” 

La Huerta installed Key’s Veg-Mix in 2006, followed by an Iso-Flo dewatering shaker and an Iso-Flo fines removal shaker the next year. Since then, La Huerta installed two integrated packaging distribution systems that each feature several Iso-Flo Smooth-Cycle scale-feed conveyors with pneumatic slide gates and an Iso-Flo collection shaker. La Huerta also added another dewatering shaker in 2016, and a bar-style-size grader, also based on Key’s Iso-Flo design, in 2018. 

“The quality of Key’s equipment is far better than any competitive solution that we’ve used. As our other shakers reach the end of their life, we plan to replace them with Iso-Flo,” says Luis Picazo, project and maintenance manager at La Huerta. “Key customizes each of these shakers for our processes so they work perfectly, and they’re designed to be easy to clean and hygienic. The support we’ve received from Key has also been great. Whenever we have questions or need anything, they’re very responsive.” 

Iso-Flo shakers entail sanitation and reliability, and Key is continuously working to improve their designs with new features that exceed rising food safety standards. In addition to stainless-steel construction, smooth beds and durable StrongArm spring arms, the newer Iso-Flo shakers also feature 100% continuous welds, no-pinch slide gates, stainless-steel motors, self-draining surfaces and the elimination of laminations, which can trap bacteria.

Featuring independent frame-mounted drives and spring arm assemblies, Iso-Flo shakers distribute energy equally to all parts of the shaker bed in a controlled natural-frequency operation. This operating principle minimizes the vibration that is transferred to structural support and the floor, which cuts the cost of installation, reduces energy use and offers quiet operation. Key’s contoured StrongArm spring arms, made with propriety composite material, offer an operational life that is said to be up to twice the life of traditional, straight spring arms. The stainless-steel Iso-Drive adds to Iso-Flo’s extreme dependability, reducing maintenance and improving performance and uptime.

“La Huerta has been in the ‘healthy food business’ since we were founded by Jose Arteaga Campos in 1957. Today, under the leadership of his son, Jose Arteaga Niepmann, we remain true to our original principles of respect, integrity, responsibility and teamwork while we evolve,” says Katrin Derntl, international sales manager at La Huerta. “After growing our sales volume on average 10% annually over the last five years, we’re producing more than 60,000 metric tons of finished product a year and exporting more than 40% to 11 countries, including the U.S., Canada and Japan, where customers have the highest quality standards. Our products go to market under our own brand and under private label customers’ brand names as well. In Mexico, the La Huerta brand is by far the market leader in the frozen vegetable category with over 70% of market share in retail.”

La Huerta installed Key’s Veg-Mix on its packaging lines to produce bags of mixed fruits or vegetables. This system receives each product in a separate infeed hopper, then de-clusters, meters, mixes and conveys the mixed product to packaging. The hopper design minimizes product “sticking” to eliminate the buildup of thawed product. A long-span frame and integrated Iso-Flo collection conveyors allow for minimal supports to the floor, which makes the system easy to install and easy to clean. The master override adjusts total line flow while maintaining pre-set mix ratios. Independent, “on-the-fly” adjustment of the Cluster Breaker and Vari-Feeder enable quick, reliable change of product mix and metering.

“Our Veg-Mix ensures the right amount of each product in the mix, so we’re sure to stay within specifications,” adds Picazo. 

The two Iso-Flo packaging distribution lines at La Huerta feature several Iso-Flo Smooth-Cycle shakers with no-pinch sliding gates. One distribution system feeds product to three multi-head weighers that each feed a vertical-form-fill-seal machine. The other feeds semi-automated packaging stations. Designed specifically for feeding applications, Smooth Cycle conveyors include controls that manage the flow of the product on the shaker, speeding up and slowing down as needed, to eliminate the mechanical stop/start transients common in these applications. 

“We rely on equipment from Key on every processing and packaging line,” adds Gutierrez. “We’re very happy with the machinery in terms of its quality, performance and sanitation, and we’re very happy with Key’s service and support.”