As I stepped out of the car, a warm breeze wafted the smell of freshly cooked peanuts through the humid coastal air. A sign on the right side of the parking lot read “Roasted Employee Entrance Only.” A sign on the left side of the parking lot read “Raw Employee Entrance Only.”
No, this wasn’t a visit to an island of cannibals. To those who are unfamiliar with process safety at food facilities, great care needs to be taken to avoid cross contamination. At this site, that diligence literally starts at the front door.
Employees at this site either work with raw peanuts or with processed peanuts. Colored hairnets tell you who belongs where, and every employee that I met made sure that no one inadvertently is somewhere they shouldn’t be. Brooms, mops, buckets and any other items used for cleaning and sanitization are color coded and feet and hands must be sanitized at every doorway.
We recently visited this peanut processing facility that produces peanuts in the shell, shelled peanuts and peanut butter. Unlike some manufacturing facilities that are just now slowly recovering from the recession, the peanut processing plant we visited has had the opposite problem: They can’t add on additional capacity and production lines fast enough. Peanuts are an inexpensive source of protein, so when the economy suffers, the sale of peanuts and peanut products increase.
Seeing a shiny new building full of sparkling new stainless steel processing equipment is impressive. I also appreciated the new ventilation system, which will help keep employees cooler when all seven production lines are in operation. The fire suppression system and eyewash stations also made me smile because they were all clean and even though the production lines weren’t in operation yet, the inspection tags showed that they had already been incorporated into the facility’s weekly safety inspection routines.
While visiting, we looked at ways absorbents were being used throughout the facility and offered advice on how they could save money. For example, they use our universal mats in several areas of the facility, but they use oil-only booms around their tanks of peanut oil to help keep the floors and aisle ways safe and prevent slip and fall injuries. Although the booms work well for this, one of their key features is that they repel water. There is no water in the area, so they can save money by switching to a universal boom.
Safety at this facility goes beyond eyewash stations and absorbent usage. Employee safety is also stressed throughout the plants. Heat-related illnesses are among the facility’s top employee safety focuses in both the raw and roasted sites. New employees are given time to acclimate to working in hot conditions before they work full days in the factory. All employees are also taught to recognize signs of heat-related illness in each other. And, of course, frequent breaks help everyone to cool off and replenish lost fluids.
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It was also great to see that in addition to food and personal safety, this facility also excelled in sustainability.
To minimize waste and help with sustainability efforts, the facility makes use of nearly all of the nuts they receive. Peanuts in the shell are roasted, sometimes salted and then scanned and bagged. If a shell is too crushed, the nuts are removed from the shell in a separate process and taken to the peanut butter production area.
Shelled nuts are cooked and then sorted by size. Like many food items, you can’t grow a field or truckload of peanuts that are all the same size. Any nuts that don’t meet the size requirement also become peanut butter.
It’s good to be reminded every so often of the great care that goes into food processing, both for the food product itself and for all the employees who work hard to bring it to our tables.