By Rob Bryant
The multiple safety measures that went into the design and construction of Henry Avocado’s packing and distribution center in 2018 were just a beginning. Since then, empowered employees have investigated and implemented new processes to maintain a leadership position in product and facility cleanliness.
A year-round distributor since 1990, and a grower-packer since 1925, Henry has established many important partnerships, yet none more important nor timely than those involved in strengthening its product purity from sourcing to distribution from a number of sources.
Luke Varvel, food safety manager, and Jorge Tostado, sanitation manager, have linked their responsibilities to give Henry an around-the-clock regimen that is among the finest in the fresh produce industry, and one that certainly far exceeds established standards.
First, Henry launched an upgraded sanitation program in 2019 that was developed under the expert guidance of Justin Kerr at Factor IV Solutions, a food facility sanitation consulting firm recognized for creating customized food safety practices.
At his suggestion, Henry reworked its packing line to eliminate components that were difficult to clean and implemented several operational improvements. Among them are the nightly use of state-of-the-art cleaning equipment, including foamers, floor scrubbers, and a dry vapor steam machine. New cleaning agents like chlorine dioxide were an important part of the mix.
Now, Tostado’s cleaning crews apply rotating sanitizers to effectively treat all equipment and they have implemented a Full Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs), validated by Factor IV Solutions. It includes modernizing the packing line and performing annual “deep-cleaning” procedures. The after-hours sanitation crew were provided with the latest hygienic sanitation tools and detergents best suited to avocado packing lines.
Kerr believes that the Henry duo of Varvel and Tostado has exceeded fresh avocado processing standards. “Luke and Jorge’s objective was to create the best sanitizing system possible by reducing contaminants from every source possible,” Kerr recalls. “Ensuring their success, all levels of Henry’s personnel showed a remarkable spirit to learn and practice the procedures we introduced.”
“A sanitation program, however, is only as good as its verification by independent sources,” Kerr advises, “and we are allowed to continuously validate that Henry is getting the results you need to be the best.”
Capping the Factor IV innovations is a product flow sequence that limits the possibility of cross contamination. It includes isolating all product handling equipment to designated zones.
Any bins used in overnight storage are cleaned and sanitized with a bin-washer, before being returned to the field for reuse. And, all food surfaces in the production area are cleaned and sanitized nightly. Even Sterilex Ultra Step treated mats are placed at entrances, and between the rest area and production area, to eliminate contamination from employee footwear.
Elimination of up to 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria
As part of the facility-wide sanitation upgrade, Henry also added the products and services of Oxyion, whose process features Oxyion®, a scientifically-validated antiviral and antimicrobial technology that eliminates up to 99.9% of viruses and bacteria such as Listeria, Salmonella and E.coli.
Jimmy Williams, sales and marketing director for Oxyion North America, explains the hydrogen peroxide-based system effectively sanitizes the product and work surfaces at Henry. “The Oxyion generators, which now operate continuously throughout Henry’s production and cold storage areas, offer a food safety solution, and an important level of biosecurity through continuous neutralization of air and surface pathogens,” he confirmed.
Oxyion is also applied in the pre-cooler area to treat field bins of avocados nightly prior to entering the production facility, and to sanitize all production area surfaces and equipment on a round the clock basis.
After packing, all cartons of avocados are placed into forced-air rooms as soon as possible and are then cooled and treated with ozone, at a minimum of 300 ppb for 6 hours prior to being released for forced-air ripening or shipping.
“Henry’s commitment to bring their customers an overall better, safer avocado enabled it to develop one of the best overall post-harvest solutions currently available. We were proud to play a role in setting that bar,” Williams said.
Coronavirus prevention requirements
Coronavirus prevention practices were swiftly put into place in the packing and processing areas and will evolve as health agencies develop new models. Among them are prohibiting visitors in the processing areas, and, prior to starting a shift, all employees must wear a mask, answer Coronavirus questions, and have their temperature taken.
As a new facility, Henry’s production area was built to handle higher volumes in the future and therefore has ample space to place workstations at least six feet apart and social distancing is required in the break and lunch rooms.
Headed by the Escondido facility, all of Henry’s Primus Labs-certified distribution centers meet or exceed the federal, state and Industry Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) guidelines. Two are located in Escondido and there are one each in Phoenix, AZ; Milpitas, CA; San Antonio and Houston, TX and Charlotte, NC. All participate in the safety programs of the home office wherever applicable.
“We strive to lead our industry with the latest and most effective food safety programs,” Phil Henry added. “We’ve made a commitment to stay current and vigilant so that our customers in retail and foodservice can be confident in receiving fresh conventional and organic avocados that surpass industry food safety standards.”