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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.