Reducing Cross-Contamination: Tips for Keeping Foods Apart in Your Commercial Kitchen

So much of commercial kitchen safety is synonymous with food safety. When you work in foodservice, it is paramount that your kitchen stays clean. But what happens when the food in your kitchen is the culprit?

Cross-contamination — the transfer of harmful bacteria in a kitchen from food, surfaces, and utensils — is too easily overlooked. Doing so can have serious consequences. The good news is that the risk of cross-contamination can also easily be reduced. Just keep these tips in mind. 

Store Items Separately

From the time food arrives in your kitchen and throughout its time in storage, it is crucial that you keep foods apart. Remember, foods need contact to cross-contaminate. 

Raw meats, poultry, and seafood should be kept in sealed containers or bags to prevent their juices from leaking onto surfaces or other foods. Meats that are marinating should also be kept in cold storage. All of these products should be refrigerated in a separate area from other foods like vegetables, fruits, and dairy. 

Similarly, items like fresh eggs should stay in their original packaging and be refrigerated as soon as they are delivered. 

Make Food Prep a Cleaner Process

The first rule of safe food prep is wash — wash often and wash well. 

All employees should wash their hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after they work with food in the kitchen. They should also wash hands before switching between foods. 

Hot soapy water should also be used along with disposable paper towels or clean kitchen cloths to wipe down surfaces in the kitchen or clean up spills during food preparation. Cloths should only be used once and then should be sanitized in a hot washing machine cycle before being used again. 

Every utensil used in the kitchen should be washed just as religiously — including cutting boards, dishes, spoons, knives, measuring cups, etc. 

Never reuse a cutting board. Cutting boards should always be clean and used for one type of food — one board for raw meat, another for produce, another for seafood, another for poultry, and so on. 

Finished food should be placed on a clean plate. Never put cooked food back onto a plate that held it raw. 

Value-Added Onions Reduce Cross-Contamination

Did you know that unpeeled raw onions bought in bulk can bring unsanitary dirt and bacteria into your kitchen? 

Extensive testing shows that sack onions can contain 100 to 1000 times more bacteria, yeasts, and molds than Gills Whole Peeled Onions. The key to a cleaner kitchen is eliminating these germs before they arrive. 

Every Gills onion goes through an HACCP-approved cleaning process with chlorine dioxide treated water, metal detection, and strict temperature controls. Our in-house laboratory is fully equipped with expert staff that oversee and verify the cleanliness of both our product and our equipment.

Our products are also verified by a host of reputable third-party organizations including:

  • Primus 
  • AIB 
  • NSF Davis Fresh
  • Steritech
  • US Army 
  • NSF
  • NSF Quality Assurance International

And our cleaning and preparation program is both SQF3 certified and GTiM compliant. 

With Gills Whole Peeled Onions, you can reduce the risk of cross-contamination and enjoy the best onions in the business. But don’t take our word for it. Our onions speak for themselves. 

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

Our Commitment to Food Safety

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 48 million Americans get sick from a foodborne illness each year. That means that 1 in 6 people order a meal from a commercial kitchen with an accidental side of disease-causing contaminates. 

The good news: There’s an easy way to take your food safety practices to the next level, and it all starts with onions. 

At Gills Onions, we are committed to setting the standard in food safety. Our onions are the best 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. 

We recently 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. 

Here are a few more ways our process and our product can help you increase the safety of your kitchen.  

Get Ready for a Cleaner Kitchen

Unpeeled raw onions can bring unsanitary dirt and bacteria into your kitchen. 

Whole peeled onions offer a more hygienic alternative. 

Extensive testing shows that bulk onions can contain 100 to 1000 times more bacteria, yeasts, and molds than Gills Whole Peeled Onions. Once those contaminants are in your kitchen space, it’s easy for them to spread to other surfaces and foods, and it’s difficult for you to stop them. The key is eliminating these germs before they arrive in your kitchen. 

Cleanliness Starts In-House 

Every Gills onion goes through an HACCP-approved cleaning process with chlorine dioxide treated water, metal detection, and strict temperature controls. Our in-house laboratory is fully equipped with expert staff that oversee and verify the cleanliness of both our product and our equipment.

Before our facility opens for processing each day, our QAs use strict parameters to verify that each piece of equipment and all our packaging areas meet the highest standards of cleanliness. They understand that even the smallest food safety hazards could harbor microbial growth and affect the entire supply chain. To ensure that all FDA regulations are met, our technicians measure chemical residue, environmental and product pulp temperatures, and more. 

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. 

All of these practices allow us to guarantee that when you receive a shipment of our whole peeled onions, you are welcoming the safest possible food into your kitchen. 

Meeting the Highest Standards 

But we don’t expect you to rely just on the word of our in-house team. Our products are also verified by a host of reputable third-party organizations including:

  • Primus 
  • AIB 
  • NSF Davis Fresh
  • Steritech
  • US Army 
  • NSF
  • NSF Quality Assurance International

And our Gills Onions cleaning and preparation program is SQF certified. 

Preventing Bacteria with the Pillow Pack 

Once our Whole Peeled Onions are prepared and cleaned, it’s time to pack and ship them to you, but transit can be bacteria’s best friend. 

A hard vacuum pack is the industry standard for packaging and shipping fresh onion products. Unfortunately, this method creates the perfect conditions for lactic acid bacterial growth, which spoils the product faster and results in a sour or fermented smell. 

At Gills Onions, we’ve found a better, safer, and cleaner way. 

We gently pillow pack our onions, leaving some oxygen present in the bag. This prevents water accumulation and the growth of unwanted microorganisms. 

It’s Time to Start Working Cleaner.

With Gills Whole Peeled Onions, you can be sure you’re buying the safest onions available — all ready-to-use with consistent 100% yield. 

But don’t take our word for it. Our onions speak for themselves. 

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

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. 

We recently 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 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. 

5 Food Safety Tips for Your Commercial Kitchen

Americans love to eat. It’s part of our daily routines and celebrations, and it’s a way to relax and unwind after a long day. 

Unfortunately, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 48 million Americans get sick from a foodborne illness each year. That means that 1 in 6 Americans order a special treat from a commercial kitchen and go home with a doggy bag of disease-causing contaminates. Not the night out you were looking for, right?

But there are simple steps you can take to increase commercial kitchen safety, keep your customers and employees safe, and give you peace of mind. 

1. Wear Gloves and Wash Hands Frequently 

While these steps may seem obvious, they are key to preventing cross-contamination in your kitchen. Remember, even the tiniest amount of bacteria can make a person sick. Provide a dedicated employee hand washing station near the entrance to your kitchen. Require all employees to wash their hands with soap and running water for a minimum of 20 seconds before touching anything else in the kitchen. 

Once their hands are washed, employees should wear kitchen gloves anytime they are interacting with food. But, gloves can give employees a false sense of safety. Remind them that gloves must be changed frequently, especially when switching between foods like raw meat, poultry, and prepared food ready to leave the kitchen. 

2. Wash Fruits and Vegetables

Even fresh fruits and vegetables that are peeled or skinned before use need to be washed. Otherwise, you risk spreading germs from the outside of the produce to the inside portions that people will consume. 

Designate a colander solely for washing fruits and vegetables. It shouldn’t be used for any other foods like raw meats or pastas. Run fruits and vegetables under cool running water and scrub well. You can also use an FDA-approved fruit and vegetable rinse for an extra-thorough cleaning. 

3. Be Mindful of Food Storage Temperatures

Separate cold food storage areas should be used for raw meats, produce, and other prepared foods like sauces or dips. Fresh cut vegetables need to be properly stored away in cold storage and never left out at room temperature. 

Foods of any kind should never be stored on the floor, and it is helpful to have thermometers to measure temperature in both freezers and refrigerators. 

4. Don’t Mess with Shelf Life 

Never use old or expired food. If it looks like you shouldn’t use it, don’t. It’s always better to throw out an unused product in foodservice than to risk making someone sick. Clearly label foods to keep track of when items arrive in your kitchen. 

5. Use Gills Onions 

Gills Onions is committed to setting the standard in food safety. Our priority is protecting the integrity of our product through each step of processing and shipment. Here are a few ways our process and our product can help you increase the safety of your kitchen.  

Bulk onions can contain 100 to 1000 times more bacteria, yeasts, and molds than Gills Whole Peeled Onions. Once these contaminants enter your kitchen, it becomes very difficult to get them out. Instead, you can eliminate these germs before they arrive by investing in a fresh, value-added product. 

Industry standard practices hard vacuum pack fresh cut products, but this method creates ideal conditions for lactic acid bacterial growth, spoiling the product faster and delivering a sour, fermented smell. 

At Gills Onions, we’ve found a better, safer, and cleaner way. We gently pillow pack our onions, leaving some oxygen present in the bag. This prevents water accumulation and the growth of unwanted microorganisms. 

And, our onions offer the longest shelf life in the industry. 

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

We Scored 100% on the SQF Audit! Here’s What That Means for You…

Gills Onions are the best in the business. We’re not afraid to make these bold claims, because we stand behind our product. Everything we do from seed to packing and shipping is centered around delivering the best fresh cut onions in the industry. 

Food safety is a large part of ensuring that our line of value-added products is not only delicious but also clean and safe for every customer. This year, Gills Onions scored a 100% on the SQF Audit, a testament to the standards we maintain (and strive to supersede) as we work. 

Why the SQF Audit matters

SQF stands for Safe Quality Food and is a national, third-party food safety certification and quality program with a strict set of guidelines businesses must follow. During an SQF Audit, a certified inspector conducts an extensive on-site review, typically over several days, of a processor’s facility, processes, and documentation for the last year. The audit reviews whether or not you are keeping the standards for a safe food environment. It also tracks whether or not a business is keeping proper documentation for all of its processes and products. Finally, it gives each organization an opportunity to validate that their systems are achieving their goals and producing safe foods. 

The goal of the audit is to become a SQF-Certified Site. The SQF Institute states, “Achieving this certification is not only a testament to your hard work, it is also a credible demonstration of your commitment to food safety.” By scoring 100% on our latest SQF Audit, Gills Onions demonstrated that we uphold the highest standards for food safety. 

Keeping our food safe 

Every Gills onion goes through an HACCP-approved cleaning process with chlorine dioxide treated water, metal detection, and strict temperature controls. Our in-house laboratory is fully equipped with expert staff members that oversee and verify the cleanliness of both our product and our equipment.

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. 

We also pride ourselves on our level of communication between departments. Our department heads meet daily — more than the weekly standard — to review practices in all areas of the company and offer ideas for improvement. 

Continuing to advance food safety standards

During the SQF Audit, we were asked multiple times how we planned to continuously improve our approach to food safety. That’s one of the reasons we love the SQF. It isn’t a one time score. The guidelines are always updating and improving, raising the bar for companies like ours. 

Our mission is to always be conscious of innovations and improvements we can make that help us be safer, work cleaner, and continue to provide quality products for future generations. 

For example, we are currently replacing our peelers with the latest technology — even though the current peelers still work to standard. Some organizations may take the point of view of “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” but at Gills Onions we are always striving for the best, most efficient, and safest equipment. We’re also working on a new bagger that will minimize personnel contact with our finished products. 

As we move into another year of production, we’re excited for the opportunity to maintain our 100% SQF Audit score and to continue to deliver the safest, most delicious onions to customers like you. 

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

Our Commitment to Fresh Produce

When you buy fresh produce at the store, you expect it to be fresh. Chefs purchasing fresh produce from suppliers expect the same. Unfortunately, what you pay for isn’t always what you get. 

Unless you buy fresh products from Gills Onions. 

We pride ourselves in offering the longest shelf life in the industry. We want our products to be the freshest, most delicious thing on your plate. Here’s how we back that guarantee. 

Why Shelf Life Matters 

A study from the Food Marketing Institute found that 80% of shoppers cite high-quality fresh fruits and vegetables as the most important thing when choosing a primary grocery store. And yet, time and again you’ll find consumers who buy what looks like a fresh piece of produce at the store, only to realize it has gone bad shortly after taking it home. 

This experience is backed up by a Zest Labs study that found that nearly half of the fresh produce they sampled in stores spoiled prematurely. 

Why does this happen?

The fresh supply chain is up against some very real challenges, namely a race to the consumer and a race against the clock. Fresh produce spends up to half of its shelf life in transit. From the second produce is harvested, the count down to break down begins. Growers and processors must use advanced equipment and technology and handle products with great care to preserve the quality while moving it quickly from field to consumer. 

It doesn’t matter how great your produce is when it’s harvested if it has gone bad by the time it is ready to be used. 

The Gills Onions Difference 

Presenting a fresher product to our end customer starts at the seed. Our unique onion growing prescription creates a “dryer” onion. With less water in the cells, these onions break down more slowly and resist the creation of that foul-smelling onion juice that accelerates the process of “going bad.” 

Once our onions are harvested, the number one factor in maintaining freshness is temperature control. We keep the product in a constant, controlled temperature range of 32 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This delays the natural breakdown of the onion cells and prevents damage that could come from freezing. 

By keeping the temperature fairly constant, we avoid the negative effects of “temperature abuse,” the strain put on vegetables when they come in and out of the cooler repeatedly. 

When it’s time to package our products, Gills Onions uses a breathable, soft-pack bag as opposed to a hard-pack vacuum seal. Breathability helps prevent bacteria growth, which causes a sour smell and a sour taste. 

With these practices in place, Gills Onions can deliver a consistently fresh product all year long. Our onions have a shelf life of 18 days. Most other onions are given 12 days. That means that even our farthest customers waiting for onions to arrive from California receive a product that still has about 10 days of freshness guaranteed. 

When you use a Gills Onions product, you can cook with confidence, knowing that your food will taste fresh because it is fresh. Every product in our line-up is grown, processed, and transported with quality as the priority. 

But like we always say, don’t take our word for it. Our onions speak for themselves.

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