Behind the Scenes: Gills Food Safety

At Gills Onions, we are committed to setting the standard in food safety. Our onions are the best in the industry, and they deserve to be the cleanest and safest in the industry too. That’s why we go above and beyond to protect the integrity of our product through every step of processing and shipment. 

A few years ago, we overhauled more than 32,000 square feet of our facilities to replace walls, ceilings, and floors with a continuous epoxy and fiberglass material. This eliminated the presence of even the smallest seams where water could collect and allow bacteria to grow and made it easier for our staff to clean and sanitize every inch of our plant. 

Take a look behind the scenes of Gills Onions at a day in the life of our quality assurance technicians.  

Before Production Begins

Our Quality Assurance (QA) technicians play a crucial role in providing safe products to our customers. Every QA employee is trained in FSPCA Food Defense Awareness and is dedicated to ensuring the highest standards of safety. It’s a big task, and their day starts early – at 4:45 a.m. The first shift of QA techs begins their shift by performing pre-operational (pre-op) inspections. 

Step 1: Inspect all equipment that will be used during production both by physical examination and adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, testing. This process tests for the presence of actively growing microorganisms. Any equipment that is questionable is rewashed and sanitized by our third-party sanitation team or, if broken, repaired by our maintenance department. During the physical inspection, QAs look for:

  • Onion residue
  • Cracks or damage to equipment where bacteria could thrive
  • Wetness on walls, floors, and ceiling that could pose a risk for bacterial contamination

Step 2: Inspect knives and blades for chips or damage that could pose the potential for metal contamination. 

Step 3: Record peroxyacetic acid (PAA) concentrations and ensure it is compliant with FDA regulations. PAA is used to sanitize conveyor lines during breaks and between shifts. 

Step 4: Take additional measures if organic onions are being processed. Parameters used to process these onions – like free chlorine, quat, and pH – differ from other onions batches. 

Step 5: See that wash water systems are functioning properly, and verify that chlorine dioxide levels are within FDA regulatory standards. Wash water temperature is also monitored for optimum performance and cleanliness. 

At the end of the pre-op inspection, the QA team shifts gears. It’s time for Gills Onions production employees to enter the processing facility. 

With the help of production leads and foremen, the QAs verify that all of our personnel are following good hygiene and manufacturing practices – hair is covered, hands are washed and sanitized, and employees are following the proper color coding system for smocks and bump caps. 

Our Gills Onions processing plant is separated into zones based on bacterial contamination risk. Employees in low risk zones where dirt is present and onions have yet to be washed wear blue. Employees in high risk areas wear white.

Once the Onions Arrive 

At the start of production, QAs verify that all the metal detectors being used are properly functioning. They monitor the processing area and onion pulp temperatures. Maintaining a strict temperature range is crucial for achieving Gills Onions’ industry-leading shelf life. 

The QA tech team performs additional quality checks throughout the day. They conduct weight checks and monitor cut size to ensure that internal and customer specifications are met. Gills Whole Peeled Onions are monitored to identify defects or determine the next step in processing – slicing or dicing. If puree or pickled onions are being processed, our QAs verify the pH of the finished product. Since both are acidic mixtures, the pH can be used as an indicator of microbial inhibition. 

QAs pull random samples from every field of the plant to inspect for defects, color, and size. This information helps Gills Onions down the line as we select seeds for the following season. 

The second shift of QA employees arrive at 3 p.m. and continue quality checks until the end of the work day. 

An Entire Staff Committed to Food Safety

At Gills, every employee from the maintenance department to the production team receives food safety training. We believe that food safety goes far beyond the packaging room. That’s why we monitor the conditions of our cooler, our shipping dock, our storage warehouse, and even the outside perimeter of our facility. 

Here is a quick glimpse at some of the other important roles that help keep our products safe:

  1. Microbiologist. Our full-time microbiologist performs sampling and tests on raw materials, water, onion products, and the surrounding environment to detect pathogens and other microorganisms. They help identify sources of possible contamination, spoilage, or other quality issues. 
  2. Maintenance. The maintenance team monitors the integrity of all our processing equipment. They ensure that each piece of equipment is of hygienic design and free of flaws like cracks and poor welding that could pose a risk for microbial growth. 
  3. Pest control. We work closely with a third-party pest control company to monitor and prevent pest activity. Prevention is absolutely key to maintaining a safe production environment. 
  4. Production. The traffic flow of forklifts is heavily monitored. Our forklifts are assigned specific locations to ensure that dirt and other foreign matter from incoming raw material is not transferred to packed product. 
  5. Shipping and receiving. These employees are responsible for maintaining the integrity of our packaging. They are the final checkpoint for identifying errors with labeling. Each label contains vital information about the field, grower, variety, production line, and production date. This information is key in being able to provide customers total traceability. 

Leading the Way Together

At the end of the day, our goal is to put the world’s best onions out into the marketplace. This isn’t possible without the dedication of our employees. The quest for food safety truly is a team effort. Valery Rodriguez has been working at Gills Onions since the Spring of 2019. As our Quality Assurance & Food Safety Manager, she plays a crucial role on our team in helping us achieve an unbeatable standard of quality. 

“I enjoy when we work together to face and solve food safety and quality challenges,” Valery says. “It feels even better when responsible and trained employees identify and communicate a potential issue and correct it before it causes problems.” 

Like Valery, our entire staff takes pride in creating the highest quality environment for the highest quality onions. 

So, the next time you open up a bag of Gills Onions, remember that our team has your back. You can rest assured that you are welcoming the safest product into your kitchen. And they taste great too. 

Ready to try onions the Gills Way? For more information, contact our sales department. 

Employee Spotlight: Arturo Canales

At Gills Onions, we know that our employees are essential to our success. One of our star team members is Arturo Canales, who expertly mans the helm of our Food Safety & Quality Assurance (FSQA) program. Ensuring Gills Onions’ high food safety standards is no easy feat, so we sat down with Arturo to chat about his time in the FSQA department.

Engineering Mindset Meets Food Safety

Arturo’s path to agriculture wasn’t always straightforward. In fact, his interest was initially triggered while attending the University of California, Davis for chemical engineering. After taking classes in winemaking and coffee production, his interest in the food industry was piqued. While he had internships throughout his college years in chemical engineering roles, he found a lack of an engineering mindset when working in QA departments. He wanted to see how he could combine his skills and knowledge with his passion for the food industry.

After graduating in 2019, Arturo dabbled in different career paths using both his chemical engineering background and his food industry knowledge, from curating sauces for different restaurants to working in fresh fruit processing plants. Eventually, he found his way home to Gills Onions. 

Food Safety Beyond the Field: How Gills Onions Ensures Quality with FSQA

Food safety is a top priority for any company in the food industry, and Gills Onions is no exception. That’s where Arturo Canales and his team come in. As the head of Gills Onions’ FSQA program, Arturo is responsible for ensuring that the company’s products meet the highest safety and quality standards. But what exactly is FSQA, and why is it so important?

FSQA stands for Food Safety and Quality Assurance. It encompasses everything from the auditing criteria and standards for operations, to employee food safety culture, and managing cleaning processes to guarantee safe food. Arturo’s team monitors the onions from the field to the consumer, testing them for pathogens before they’re brought into the facility.

Once our onions have been deemed safe to enter the plant, Arturo’s team monitors the equipment and oversees the onion washing and sanitizing process. They also ensure the sizes and weights of products meet customer specifications and that finished onion products are tested for safety before leaving the facility.

Arturo has been with Gills Onions for just over two years, and in that time, he’s made a real impact on the company’s food safety practices. His background and experience in chemical engineering have brought an invaluable perspective to the FSQA program at Gills Onions.

As the Food Safety and QA Manager, he oversees lab testing, QA technicians, finished product testing, and raw product testing. He and his team work behind the scenes, conducting yeast and mold testing, and shelf life testing, to ensure the company can provide the shelf life we’re known for. 

The 18-day shelf life of Gills Onions’ products is a source of pride for the team, and rightfully so. It’s incredible to think that something we process in California can be enjoyed by someone across the country or even internationally just a few days later.

Arturo Canales’ Typical Week at Gills Onions

So what does a typical day or week look like for someone who manages FSQA? Arturo says it’s all about keeping up with technology and looking for ways to improve systems, whether for food safety or quality. The team uses data to make things more efficient and collaborates with other departments to achieve sustainability goals. And thanks to going paperless in their department, all of their processes are streamlined and easily managed through iPads.

Overall, Arturo and his team play a crucial role in ensuring that Gills Onions’ products are delicious and safe to eat. Their commitment to food safety and quality is a testament to the company’s dedication to providing the best products possible to our customers.

Culture is Key: Why Gills Onions is More Than Just a Company

When we asked Arturo what he loved most about working at Gills Onions, his response was immediate: “It’s the culture.” Thanks to the team’s strong connection, “Communication is excellent, and problem-solving is quick,” he said. Arturo is especially proud of the quality department and how much they work with technology. The systems they’ve implemented are natural, and the team is always open to incorporating new tech and making suggestions for improvement.

“Steve Gill, the owner, plays a big part in this as well,” said Arturo. “He checks in regularly and is involved in everything. It’s refreshing to see an owner who is so open to new ideas and dedicated to incorporating new improvements.” 

Thanks to their dedication to quality and food safety, Arturo and his team have complete confidence in their products. They know they’re providing customers with exceptional quality, and that’s a feeling they take great pride in. 

Follow Your Instincts: Arturo Canales’ Advice for Students in Agriculture

Reflecting on his education and current career path, Arturo has some valuable advice for current and prospective college students: “Follow your instincts. I didn’t necessarily think that I would end up working in agriculture,” said Arturo, “but I enjoy what I do, and I’m grateful that I followed my instincts and kept an open mind about my career options.”

“Sometimes [students] are too focused on what their selected major is, and that closes them off to other opportunities. Be open to different paths,” he said. 

Arturo’s position at Gills Onions is a perfect example of the many different career paths available in agriculture beyond labor on the farm. It’s important for students to realize that there are a whole host of rewarding careers in agriculture that don’t necessarily involve working in the field, and that these jobs can have a huge impact on how food is supplied to the end user.

We’re thrilled to have Arturo on our team, and can’t wait to see what the future holds for Gills, especially in our FSQA program.

Ready to try onions grown “The Gills Way?” Contact the Gills Onions sales department to learn more.

Unpeeled: How Sustainability Shapes the Ethos of Our Onion Company

As an abstract concept, sustainability can be overwhelming. When we think about the huge technological advances and structural changes that need to happen in order to change the world, something like a reusable coffee pod might seem minuscule. 

But your individual carbon footprint matters! And so does ours. At Gills Onions, we understand that to make progress toward sustainability, we’ve got to make everyday, realistic changes. Small decisions, both for businesses and consumers, do make a difference.

Our employees understand this conviction as well, which is why sustainability is built into the ethos of our company.

An Overview: Gills Onions Sustainability Program

In 2009, the sustainability program at Gills really began to take shape with the AERS (Advanced Energy Recovery System). This flagship program catapulted Gills into global recognition, and since then, we have evolved and adapted immensely. From generating energy through onion waste to managing refrigeration efficiency, our sustainability program helps us to assess our processes and look for ways to improve continually. 

More recently, the sustainability program has partnered with Cascade Energy and Southern California Edison Company in a two-year Strategic Energy Management (SEM) program. This partnership has been amazing and gives us fresh eyes when looking at improvement throughout the facility. 

Sustainability Is Our Passion

A passion for sustainability fuels the ethos of Gills Onions through each and every department. Because we have seen great energy sustainability results in the past and continue to adapt and change over the years, our employees understand that this push for energy efficiency is not going away any time soon. 

“Our core business is to sell the best onion with the lowest environmental footprint,” says Gills Onions Sustainability Manager Laura Hamman. “Everything we do has to serve that mission.”

How Has Gills Built A Culture Around Sustainability?

Employee buy-in is the acceptance and understanding of a company goal. When employees “buy into” an idea, they are investing in its success and committing to doing their part to make it happen. 

At Gills Onions, we have incredible employee buy-in when it comes to sustainability. In order to foster an environment of unity, there are a few key things we keep in mind.

  • Keep Employees Informed

Every year, our sustainability team holds dedicated meetings to discuss plans and ideas for improving efficiency. In those meetings, we include individuals from various departments – like maintenance – who have a big impact on affecting change. By keeping everyone in the loop and gathering feedback from those who are face-to-face with everyday challenges in the facility, employees truly become a part of Gills’ mission and goal. 

  • Recognize Success 

Another way to encourage a culture built around sustainability is to recognize employees for their ideas and accomplishments. Whether that’s a simple acknowledgment in a meeting or an award for success in improving efficiency, positive reinforcement goes a long way. 

“The enthusiasm is contagious,” says Hamman. “It disarms the apathy.”

  • Learn from Mistakes Together

Lastly, transparency is a huge part of cultivating employee buy-in around sustainability. When things don’t work out, rather than sweeping it under the rug, we let our employees know. 

For example, when our facility failed to recycle some waste containers, we were honest about the mishap so that everyone could learn together and build a culture of trust. “Sometimes, when you get really good at diverting your waste streams, you get eager to recycle everything, but there’s much contamination that can happen,” says Hamman. “It was important to share and let everyone know we’re trying to do better.”

Looking Forward to a Bright Sustainability Future Together

With a great culture of employee buy-in around sustainability, the possibilities are endless. It’s so much easier to move forward with new projects and ideas when you know your team supports the vision you believe in. 

“When you have your strength of conviction, it helps you overcome obstacles,” says Hamman. As our sustainability team looks to the future, they are confident, enthusiastic, and ready for an ever-changing world of opportunities.

Ready to try onions grown “The Gill Way?” Contact the Gills sales department to learn more.

Employee Spotlight: Letty Casillas

At Gills Onions, we’re proud to be family-owned. Our employees are an essential part of what makes our onions so great, and we’re excited to introduce them to you.

For more than 28 years, Letty Casillas has been working her way through the ranks of the Gills Onions workforce. Now, we can’t imagine what we would do without her.

So, we sat down and asked Letty a few questions about her background, her role at Gills Onions, and what she has learned from her experiences.

Tell us a little bit about you and what you do at Gills Onions.

Way back in 1995, I applied for a shipping position at Gills Onions. After being in that position for three months, I was offered a sales position. That’s where you could say it all really started for me. Now, I am an account manager, and I work with two of our largest industrial accounts as well as various independent accounts.

It has been over 28 years since I started. In that time, my husband and I have raised three beautiful children: Monica, Carmen, and Josue. I also have three grandchildren.

You work with many Gills Onions customers. What do you tell them about Gills Onions?

Gills Onions offer quality, flavorful, fresh cut onions. We add value to your operations by eliminating inefficiencies. When you purchase bulk fresh cut onions from Gills Onions, you save time, labor, and cut overall costs. And you benefit from our industry-leading shelf life.

What advice do you have for someone thinking about switching to industrial onions?

Industrial diced onions make sense for customers who are large processing companies and who consistently buy large quantities of onions. Typically these customers are seasonal.

For example, one of our biggest clients are companies in the tomato sauce industry. In the summer, they harvest their tomatoes, and we send out truckloads of fresh onions to help create their flavorful sauces.

Our industrial diced onion shipments are guaranteed fresh up to 11 days.

I always say that industrial customers buy big batches of onions and see big value in return.

Do you have a favorite Gills Onions product?

Obviously, I have a soft spot for industrial onions. But, my favorite product is our classic Whole Peeled Onions. They are 100 percent usable with zero waste. You can’t beat that.

Why do you love working for Gills Onions?

I love working at Gills Onions, because it feels more like a family than a large business. The owners, Steve and David Gill, are so caring and involved, and the staff is great. I also get to work with amazing customers.

Ready to try onions grown “The Gills Way?” Contact the Gills Onions sales department to learn more.

Want to join the Gills team? Reach out to us.

Employee Spotlight: Jose Cardona

At Gills Onions, we know that our employees are essential to our success. One of our star team members is Jose Cardona, who has been with us for over 15 years.

We recently sat down with Jose to chat about his time at Gills Onions. From starting out in the HR safety offices, to working hard in the fields, to now leading our Rio Farms onion division team, Jose has seen it all. And, he’s got stories to share! 

Sowing Seeds of Success

Growing up in the small agricultural community of King City, California, Jose always knew he wanted to be outside, working alongside others in the fields. From a young age, Jose remembers thinking that getting paid to spend your day out under the California sun alongside your buddies was surreal – not a job, but a dream. Watching his father become an integral part of Rio Farms for over 30 years inspired Jose to do the same. 

Jose earned his associate’s degree at Hartnell College in King City, which allowed him to be able to work part-time in irrigation for Rio Farms while he attended classes.

“It was probably one of the hardest jobs I’ve done, but also the most fun job I’ve had,” Jose says. He loved the camaraderie and friendship that was created while working long days in the hot sun, saving money for college.

In 2014, Jose transferred to Fresno State to finish up his degree, always sure to come back to Rio Farms in the summers to work. 

Jose’s Advice for Agriculture Students

For Agriculture students currently attending university, Jose has two important pieces of advice: Connect with people who relate to you, and don’t stress about the future – where you end up doesn’t have to be your final destination.

During his first several weeks at university, Jose remembers feeling sad and lonely, wondering if he made the right choice going to college and leaving home. His solution was finding a community. Jose joined an agriculture fraternity at Fresno State where he was able to connect with others in his field. These connections have followed him for years and helped him along his career path. 

As a student, Jose found himself stressing a lot about the unknowns of his future or where he would end up with his degree. He found that the best practice was remembering that he didn’t have to stay in one place. There are always opportunities and different paths to take. His mantra became, “Where you end up doesn’t have to be the final destination.” 

After graduating with a degree in agriculture, Jose tried his hand at some other agricultural jobs in the area, but he soon realized it wasn’t the same as what he knew and loved at Rio Farms. 

What Jose Loves Most About Gills Onions

As someone who manages an entire onion division for a large company, his typical day is far from boring. He’s constantly juggling a variety of tasks – from making sure he’s up-to-date on weather reports to managing employees and planning for the weeks ahead. 

Jose is always thinking about the future of the fields. He ensures trucking is lined up and field quality is up to par. He even has to make water calls three weeks to a month before harvest and spends time walking the fields to make sure the right amount of water is being applied. It’s a fast-paced job that requires constant attention and strategic planning, but for Jose, it’s all worth it to see a successful onion harvest come to fruition.

From the top down (starting with Steven and David Gill), everyone involved in the onion-growing process is passionate about growing the healthiest onion possible. “Steve puts his money where his mouth is,” Jose says, “and there are a lot of great practices he has created with onions – our fertility program, state-of-the-art equipment, and soil health being the foundation.” 

That passion inspires employees like Jose to understand their essential roll in the onion’s lifecycle and show up each day ready to do their best. Their dedication and commitment makes Gills Onions a great place to be. 

Ready to try onions grown “The Gills Way?” Contact our sales department to learn more. Want to join the Gills team? Reach out to us.

Unpeeled: How Gills Onions Strives for Energy Efficiency

For over a decade, Gills Onions has been fully dialed into the importance of sustainability. From the leaders of the Energy Management Team to peeling line employees, everyone at Gills feels the drive for energy efficiency, and everyone’s input is welcome and valued.

Learn more about our latest efforts striving for sustainability and some of the successes we’ve been able to celebrate.

Our Sustainability Partnership

One of the most important efforts we’ve made toward sustainability in recent years is our partnership with Cascade Energy and Southern California Edison Company. Currently, Gills is in a two-year Strategic Energy Management (SEM) program with these companies, and the results have been fantastic. 

“One of the key takeaways from this partnership is that now whenever we look at a future initiative, even if it may not be directly related to sustainability, we still use the energy lens to evaluate it,” said Laura Hamman, Sustainability Manager. “Energy efficiency is one more element of the vetting process — because efficiency can apply to everything.”

Having a fresh set of eyes in our processing plants has been a huge help for sustainability, and we’re always thrilled when opportunities arise to make “green” onion improvements. 

How Assessments Lead to Improvements

Within the SEM partnership, Gills Onions has been constantly evaluating efficiency and figuring out new ways to optimize energy use. When it comes to sustainability, the small things really do add up. 

With the help of SEM program engineers, yearly audits identify things we can improve on in each area of consumption — including refrigeration, compressed air, process equipment, lighting, and more.

Some of the projects we’ve been working on as a result of this program include:

  • Optimizing pressure cooler operation (turning off fans when no liquid/refrigerant is flowing at the evaporator)
  • Adjusting the compression ratio for the compressors
  • Installing valves to shut off compressed air when not in use
  • Repairing compressed air leaks
  • Employee engagement, training, and recognition (including our “Turn It Off” awareness campaign)

These projects are a team effort among all of our departments, and we’re so proud of the work they’ve put into this initiative so far.

The Numbers Speak for Themselves

We’re happy to report that our hard work is paying off, and we’ve got the numbers to prove it. By investing in major capital projects (like replacing a large ammonia refrigeration compressor), during the first two years of our SEM partnership, Gills Onions saw a 21% reduction in annual energy consumption and a huge leap from our goal of 12% savings.

And we’re not stopping there! Some other exciting projects we’ve been working on to improve the overall efficiency of the plant include new peeling lines with reduced compressed air use, and water recycling in our wastewater system through the use of effluent water for dilution.

Sustainability is truly an ongoing effort, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds.

The Future Looks Green for Gills

Due to the success of our SEM partnership, we have been invited back to participate in a second cycle and continue our advancements. Only the companies with the most potential and drive to continue with the program have received this invitation, and we are thrilled to be part of that cohort. 

“It has been a labor of love,” said Hamman. “It’s been really nice to see the results, and we keep going strong. Even if it’s a small change, it matters.”

Ready to try onions grown “The Gills Way?” Contact our sales department to learn more.

Moving Onions Across America: Get to Know Gills Freight

Our job is to get millions  of pounds of the highest quality onions from our fields to America’s tables, but we can’t do it alone. That’s where our wonderful team at Gills Freight comes in to save the day. 

Gills Freight drivers move our raw onion products from the fields to our state-of-the-art processing facility. They also make sure necessary equipment makes it to the right fields at the right time throughout the onion growing process. It’s a very complicated – and essential – part of what we do. 

Let’s take a look at a day in the life of a Gills Freight driver. 

Organization: The Key to Success

Ron Perry, a 30+ year employee of Gills Onions, is currently the head of Gills Freight. He manages the teams of drivers that transport raw onions from the fields and the teams that carry products to cross docks where it is loaded and shipped through the U.S. and Canada. 

By the time most of us are snoozing our alarm clocks, Ron has been up making things happen for hours. His day starts about 4:30 a.m. with the dispatch board. The board tells every driver what they are doing for the day and where they are driving. It’s Ron’s job to make sure the board is always up to date and that onions and equipment are being picked up and delivered on schedule. He’ll also look ahead at the rest of the week to determine how many loads will need to be hauled in the coming days. Drivers will typically know exactly what they will be doing from Monday through Saturday. Planning is everything, and Ron is the first line of defense.

About 6 a.m. it’s time to head to the shipping office and review invoicing and paperwork for the loads that went out the night before and for the loads of onion products that will be moved that day. It doesn’t matter how many onions are moved if there isn’t accurate documentation. Ron determines the freight costs for every order that takes place. 

The rest of the day is filled with supporting drivers. Ron responds to any problems that arise, coordinates scheduled maintenance, and tracks and communicates estimated arrival times for each truck. It’s a demanding job, but Ron makes it look easy.  

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Gills Freight drivers are where the rubber meets the road. They operate powerful machinery with unmatched safety and reliability. Different drivers operate different routes depending on the time of year, but in the spring they typically pull out of Bakersfield. That means the day starts at base at 3:30 in the morning. 

The drivers arrive in Bakersfield at about 6 a.m. and load up. At minimum, one truck can transport 52,000 pounds of the world’s best onions. They fill out their paperwork – remember, that paper trail is super important – and hit the road again. Drivers usually arrive back at the Oxnard facility around 10 a.m. The day is just starting for many Gills Onions employees, but it’s a wrap for our drivers. They’ll check the almighty dispatch board to see what their next day of hauling looks like before heading home to get some rest. 

But that’s a short haul. 

Sometimes drivers have a long haul that requires stopping and sleeping overnight then continuing to drive the next day. During these trips, drivers can drive 250, 450, and even 520 miles a day. Over the course of a year, our freight drivers typically travel 100 to 150 thousand miles. 

That’s why reliability and safe driving skills are essential qualities of a Gills Onions Freight driver. We’re lucky to have members of our team that have been with us for over 15 years and know their jobs like the back of their hand. Three of our drivers have even won Ryder’s Truck Driver of the Year. 

Bringing Our Onions to You

The biggest challenge of working in Gills Freight is also the thing that our team enjoys the most: No day is ever the same as the last. Transport needs are always changing, and it keeps things interesting. 

We couldn’t be prouder of our Gills Freight team. They keep us up and running and make sure that our onions get to where they need to be – and ultimately, to you. 

So, the next time you open up a bag of Gills Onions, remember what it took to get those delicious vegetables into your hands, and send up a little thank you to drivers that made it possible. 

Ready to try onions the Gills Way? For more information, contact our sales department.

Faces of Gills Onions: Jessica Ortega

At Gills Onions, we’re proud to be family-owned. Our employees are an essential part of what makes our onions so great, and we’re excited to introduce them to you.

Jessica Ortega began working for Gills Onions when she was just 18 years old. Now, more than two decades later, she heads up our retail customers in customer service. She also services one of our largest foodservice customers.

So, we sat down and asked Jessica a few questions about her background, her role at Gills Onions, and what she has learned from her experiences.

What brought you to Gills Onions?

I started here when I was 18. I was just looking for a job, and I kind of stumbled upon Gills Onions. My first job was as a filer. Back then, everything we did was on paper, and someone needed to file all those documents and keep them organized.

But, I started paying attention to what the other employees were doing around me. Whenever I saw that someone needed help, I would offer a hand, and that exposed me to a lot of different roles in the company. Anytime I heard about new programs or trainings that were open to people learning, I signed up. I think I got the reputation of being willing to figure out whatever needed to be figured out, and that led to me advancing in the company.

Now, I’m an account manager, and I help lead the Oxnard sales office. I’m in charge of several key foodservice and all retail accounts. I oversee things for our outside sales reps and enter orders. I also do a lot of inventory control, letting production know what products they need to run to meet customer demand.

And I get to go to our annual food shows for retail, which is always really fun!

How have you seen Gills Onions change over the years?

Well the most obvious change is that I started out filing paper. Billing and orders were all taken by hand. I used to receive faxes! Now, so much is online or automated. It helps our processes move faster and with fewer errors, especially when it comes to inventory and tracking what products leave our facility and which customers they go to.

What hasn’t changed is the importance of human connection and customer service. I have customers that I have had for ten years, and I can tell you their order from memory. So, if I see an order come through that has an extra zero, I know something is probably not right. Technology doesn’t catch human errors, but humans can. I’ve also been able to experience our zero waste initiative first hand. That has been amazing to see. I remember they removed all the trash cans from our offices and replaced them with these tiny cans, like the size of a cup, and said that was all the waste we should be generating in a week. It has really put things in perspective. Now, we bring our own bottles and cups to work. That alone has cut out so much waste, and we know we are helping the environment. There is already too much trash in this world.

Why should someone make the switch to a value-added product like Gills Onions?

The biggest thing I tell people about making the switch to a value-added product is just that — you are adding value. You know when you’re ordering five pounds of onions that you are getting five pounds of onions.

Sure, you could buy a 50 lb sack for $8, but you’re not getting 50 lbs of usable product. You have to pay for the space on the truck, pay a person to chop the onions, and then, after all of that, at least a third of that 50 lbs is waste.

Instead, you can buy  20 lbs of Gills Onions and know you are going to have 20 lbs of onions ready to use.

What Gills Onions product do you love best?

As a working mom, I love our retail 3 lb bag of diced onion. Anything that cuts down on meal prep time and gives me more time to spend with my family is great. I grab out the onions I need, reseal the bag, and put it back in the fridge for next time.

Why do you love working for Gills Onions?

One of the things I really love about working for Gills Onions is our relationship with our owners. Steve Gill doesn’t have to be here, but every day you see him here going around from department to department asking people how their days are going and how they are doing. That has a huge impact on our work environment.

Having an owner that takes time out of his day – every day – to come in and speak with you is special. It doesn’t happen very often in other organizations. I think it just speaks to the level of care that Gills Onions puts into every level of its business, all the way from the office to the fields. That’s why our onions are so great.

Ready to try onions grown “The Gills Way”? Contact our sales department to learn more. 

Gills Onions’ Commitment to Employee Health and Safety

Here at Gills Onions, the health and safety of our employees is our top priority. We are an equal opportunity employer with a diverse workforce and try our best to always put our employees first. As our safety coordinator, Frank Garcia, puts it, “Safety first, safety always.”

We have a dedicated health and safety team of fifteen employees working their very hardest to ensure the well-being of our farm workers and plant employees, especially during these turbulent times. Our staff works to stay within compliance at all times, making our social responsibility program a reliable resource for employees.

Our Response to COVID-19

Since the onslaught of COVID-19, Gills Onions has made adjustments just like the rest of the world. Each day, plant employees and farm workers must have their temperature taken and dress in required personal protective equipment (PPE). We provide complimentary masks, latex gloves, and hand sanitizer so employees have no reason to be without these essential supplies. 

In an effort to increase social distancing, we have also modified break times and meal times, installed additional benches, and provided extra training. In the fields, dividers keep farm workers at a safe distance, and we have made sure that all the water we provide them is in individual handheld containers to eliminate cross-contamination. 

According to county guidelines, if anyone becomes sick or begins showing symptoms of COVID-19, they must report to their supervisors immediately in order to decrease the risk of spreading the disease. Employees are able to get treatment and testing for COVID without any risk of losing employment, and we provide up to 80 hours of compensation for COVID-related absences. This includes dealing with childcare issues, hospital visits, and caring for friends and family members struggling with the disease. We cherish our employees and truly want the best for them and their loved ones.

Going the Extra Mile for Employee Wellness

Aside from COVID-19 protocols, we provide health and wellness benefits to employees on a regular basis. During a typical year, we provide on-site annual checkups and bring in qualified technicians to administer flu shots. Due to COVID-19, this year employees are encouraged to visit clinics individually for these services. And for those enrolled in our benefits, telemedicine is available as well. 

We also offer a wonderful Mom-to-Be program through Western Growers. Applicants who register in this program within 16 weeks of pregnancy receive a $500 gift card to Target and a complimentary car seat for their future child.

A Continuing Commitment to Safety

As we move forward, we hope to continue improving our workplace environment in order to keep employees safe and healthy. One change to look forward to in the near future is the implementation of new machinery that will further improve social distancing.

As always, we will continue to notify our teams of updates to policy and ensure that everyone is following procedure and is aware of best practices. We pride ourselves in being thorough—especially when training our employees—and are optimistic about the future. 

To everyone struggling in these unprecedented times, we want you to feel confident in Gills Onions. We are doing everything we can to take care of our employees, so that we can continue to provide the best value-add onion products in the nation. 

Ready to try onions the Gills Way? For more information, contact our sales department