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.

From Seed to Table: The Journey of a Gills Onion

In celebration of our 40th anniversary, we wanted to share with you the journey of a Gills Onion, from seed to table. Family owned and operated since 1983, we’ve grown immensely since our early days. What hasn’t changed is our love for onions!

 Let’s peel back the layers and discover the roots of our onions’ success.

Where the Gills Onion Begins

From the soil to the sunshine, our onions have been nurtured with care and attention every step of the way – “The Gill Way.” It all begins with selecting the right onion seed. Our varieties are carefully selected for their flavor, quality and growing region

Our growing partner, Rio Farms, manages the entire process from start-to-finish before the onions make their way to Gills Onions facility in Oxnard, California. There is truly an art and science to growing the perfect Gills onion. Our growing methods were personally developed by Steve Gill and help to ensure that our products are not only grown in the most environmentally conscious way but also have the best quality and shelf life in the market place for value-added onions. 

Onions on the Move: A Look at the Transportation Process

Our job is to get millions of pounds of the highest quality fresh-cut onions from our fields to your table, but we can’t do it alone. That’s where our wonderful team at Gills Freight comes in. 

During the growing season, Gills Freight drivers move the necessary equipment needed throughout the onion growing process. Once our beautiful onions have been harvested by Rio Farms, our transportation team hauls them to our state-of-the-art processing facility. 

Unleashing the Flavor: The Gills Onions Production Line

The true magic happens when the raw onions make it to the Gills Onions processing facility. Our team begins by loading the onions into a conveyer that leads to the peeling and cutting stations. The cutter removes the top and tail of each onion while simultaneously scoring the onions’ skin to make for an easier peel. Once in the peeling machine, we use a combination of air and water to blow the skin right off the onions.

The onions make their way back down to the Gills Onions team for quality assurance. They swiftly cut off any bruises and imperfections that might have been missed. The onions then journey over to the washing station, where they’re rinsed with cold, ozonated water that kills bacteria. 

Then, it’s off to slicing, dicing, and slivering where onions are prepped, packaged and sealed for each customer order. 

Gills Onions: Bringing Quality to You

After being processed and packaged, the onions are ready to hit the road once again and find their forever homes at your favorite restaurant, in your kitchen and even in your favorite tomato sauce. 

As a consumer, you have the confidence knowing that we know exactly where your onions are grown, processed and packaged. We take tremendous pride in our full traceability program. 

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: We know onions. It’s what we do, and we do it best.

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

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

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.

Harvest Has Begun, and Fresh Onions Are on Their Way

Spring is here, and at Gills Onions that means one thing: harvest has begun! In addition to having the longest shelf life in the industry, Gills Onions is always one of the first to market in California with a fresh crop of delicious onions. We’re celebrating the transition from storage onions season to fresh onion season. Here’s why you should too. 

What Fresh Onion Season Means for You

April 19 marks the start of the freshest Gills onions arriving to our customers. We are raking in fresh yellow onions from our fields across California. Red onion harvest will follow around the first part of May. Since our onions can always be relied on for fantastic flavor, you may wonder what differences you can see between onions fresh from harvest and those cultivated for storage season. 

There are several notable perks to fresh onions. Virtually no odor can be detected from the onions that come directly from harvest. There also won’t be any green sprouting or telescoping, which can sometimes happen when an onion reaches the end of storage season and is trying to grow again. You’ll also notice some visible differences between fresh onions and storage onions. It’s common for fresh red onions to appear pale and even almost white. This color difference has to do with the early season varieties we plant and the fact that red onions develop a deeper color as they cure and wait to be processed. Your yellow onions may appear to be whiter as well for the same reasons. 

What Harvest Season Looks Like at Gills Onions

At Gills Onions, we strategically time our onion planting, harvesting, and varieties so that we can meet the need for onions year-round. We typically harvest from April to November from three major growing areas of California. Each region has its own set of strengths that help us consistently produce quality onions. 

Our fields in Imperial County (Brawley) are the first to harvest each year. This region gives us a strong onion supply as we transition out of storage onion season. Then, we move to Kern County (Bakersfield), where a large amount of our onion supply is grown. We plant such large amounts in this region because the environment favors short, intermediate, and long day onions alike. Finally, we move to harvest in the fall into Monterey County (King City). These fields provide the bulk of our storage onions. 

In order to harvest over such a long span of time, we have to plan our planting accordingly. We typically start planting the Brawley fields in October or November each year so they are ready to start harvesting in April. The final fields in King City are usually finishing being planted as we start harvesting the Brawley crop in the spring. This strategy keeps growers busy, but it keeps our customers in delicious onions no matter the time of year. 

Behind the Scenes of Harvest

This video gives you a brief behind the scenes look at how our onions are harvested. You’ll see two machines passing through the field. The first is a chopper, which cuts the green tops off of the onions. The second is the digger, which pulls the onions from under the ground onto the earth’s surface. Once these two machines have done their jobs, a row of beautiful fresh onions can clearly be seen. 

These onions are left in the open air and warm sunlight to cure for two to three days. Then, they are picked up and transported to our sorting facility, where they are checked for quality. The best onions are loaded onto trucks and delivered to our processing facility in Oxnard, California, where they are washed, peeled, sometimes cut, and prepared for shipping to customers like you. 

Gills Onions are 100 percent California grown and, boy, do they taste good. But don’t take our word for it. Fresh onions are on their way to you, and our onions speak for themselves. 

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

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.

Our Year-Round Onion Supply

The Secret to Storing Onions 

At Gills Onions, we deliver the best and freshest onions to our customers year-round, but we only harvest onions from April to November. What do we do the rest of the year? The answer is storage for our onions. Storing onions is an art. It’s one that we’ve perfected over many years with our special onion-growing prescription. It starts with seed selection and ends with a delicious Gills onion arriving in your kitchen. And if we’ve done our job correctly, you’ll never be able to tell which onions are storage onions and which are coming to you in-season. 

Our Unique Approach

Storing onions isn’t unique to our operation. Onions are only harvested certain months of the year, but society uses onions all year long. The only way to keep supplying the onions year-round is to store them. You’ve probably been using storage onions your whole life and simply never realized it. What does make Gills Onions unique is how we approach the storing process. Storage onions have to stay fresh for around six months in cold storage. The storage season starts in September or October each year and extends all the way until April. That’s why seed selection and onion variety are so crucial. 

Gills Onions currently grows around a dozen varieties of onions. These varieties are selected for their flavor and longevity. Then, the seeds are matched with growing environments that will produce the best results from hot, more desert-like environments to fields in cooler regions like Bakersfield, King City, and the Salinas Valley. During the growing process, adjustments must be made for onions that will be spending time in storage. We pull back on the use of fertilizers and nitrogen to allow calcium in the onions to build a strong cell wall that will withstand natural cellular breakdowns that occur over time. At harvest time, onions are dug up and cured in the sun for 7 to 10 days. Curing is an essential part of the storage process. Onions that aren’t cured properly will decay quickly in storage. Bulk onion operations place unpeeled onions loose or in bags into a cold storage warehouse. Often, heat is used to dry out the onions and prevent decay, but this can mean sacrificing flavor. 

As a fresh cut processor, our onions are harvested, sorted and placed into bins before storing. The onions are also pre-cooled to gradually bring them down to storage temperatures. This gradual cooling keeps the onions from sweating and building up moisture that causes mold. In storage, the onions are kept at 34 degrees Fahrenheit and 75% humidity for optimum freshness. During the storage season, the onions are routinely checked for quality. Onions with internal or external decay, sun damage, or mechanical damage from the peeling process are removed from storage. The onions’ color can also be an indicator of freshness. Yellow or green centers mean an onion is reaching its point of longevity for storage.

Making a Great Storage Onion 

Some varieties of onions naturally stay fresh longer than others, and even the most subtle physical attributes, like shape, can affect the way an onion withstands the storing process. Storage onions should have single centers instead of multiple centers. Those with double or triple centers break down faster, and won’t stay fresh for long. We constantly evaluate and re-evaluate how each variety of onion is performing in storage. Like any crop, onion genetics change over time. If a variety we have loved is now producing onions with undesirable attributes – like multiple centers – we stop using it and replace it with a better-performing variety. Quality always comes first. 

Year-Round Quantity with Gills Onions Quality 

At Gills Onions, we are dedicated to providing the best onions at the best price. We take our responsibility to our environment, our customers, and of course, our onions, seriously. With our strict storage onions growing program, we can deliver the best tasting and freshest product year-round. Our customers get consistent quality, a consistent price, and consistent availability all 365 days of the year. 

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

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

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. 

Tackling Supply Chain Struggles by Eliminating Waste

Across North America, the supply chain is facing an unprecedented crisis. Transportation rates – the cost of trucking products from place to place – are rising, while the availability of equipment and manpower is falling. What does this mean for the industry, and what can we all do to help?

Rising Rates, Labor Shortages, and Other Challenges

Every day, companies ship goods across North America. From coast to coast, border to border, this is how essential products, including the food you eat every day, get to you. But, transportation comes at a price. In April of 2020, a load moving from California to Boston cost a produce company $6,400. In April of 2021, the cost was $10,600.

In the past, it wasn’t unheard of that peak demand summer rates rose to the $10,000 mark, but never in recent memory have rates risen this much so early in the year. In fact, experts predict that transportation rates could be 35 to 50 percent higher this summer than in previous years.

Why the rapid spike? A perfect storm of less than ideal conditions post pandemic shares a majority of the blame. Supply chain interruptions have made it difficult for shippers to secure equipment and drivers. Health and safety concerns during COVID-19 as well as the availability of stimulus and increased unemployment benefits have encouraged some drivers to leave the business altogether.

While it’s hard to predict the outcome, many industry leaders think this domino effect will continue for quite some time. For the time being the reality is this: higher prices and tighter truck supply.

How Gills Onions Can Help

So, what can you do to help alleviate the stress put on the shipping industry and still get products to market? When it comes to fresh produce – especially onions – one of the biggest boosts producers and customers can give is eliminating waste.

There are more than 400 truckloads of bulk onions shipped and consumed in the United States every day. The equivalent of one out of every three truckloads is waste. That means that growers, shippers, and customers are footing the bill to transport thousands of pounds of garbage.

When you purchase Gills Onions, you are buying 100% usable product. Every pound of onions that is shipped to you can be used in your kitchen. It also means that precious trucks aren’t wasted moving useless freight.

Eliminating waste also translates into financial savings for every part of the supply chain. With fresh cut, value-added produce, no one is footing the bill for transporting thousands of dollars of unusable material.

Thinking About Long-term Sustainability

Dedication to eliminating waste doesn’t just save money. It also helps the environment. When shippers can do more with fewer trucks on the road, it reduces emissions and fossil fuel consumption, wear and tear on infrastructure, and more.

While we have to face the realities of the current shipping crisis, we can’t forget the long-term effects that our choices make on the future of our planet. As an industry, we can make choices that help out shippers and customers and also move us toward a more sustainable status quo.

We’re grateful for the wonderful team at Gills Freight that moves our raw products from the fields to our processing facility. Without them, it would be impossible to get millions of pounds of the world’s best onions to America’s tables. We’re also grateful for the men and women all over the country who keep the supply chain up and running. Even in challenging times, we know that by working together, we can continue to do what we all do best.

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

Finding the Value in Value-Added Produce

Value-added produce is valuable. It seems like a no-brainer – after all, “value” is in the name. But there are many ways that value-added fresh produce can help businesses. From food safety, to reduced costs, to consistent quality, value-added is just that – super valuable.

Value-Add Number One: Save on Labor Costs

One of the most labor-intensive tasks in any commercial kitchen is prepping fresh produce. Prepping a raw bulk onion order is the perfect example. One 50 lb sack contains an average of 200 individual onions. That’s a lot of peeling, washing, and cleaning up – all before you even begin to dive into cutting.

That prep work takes manpower, and labor is a commodity that is getting increasingly harder to find. The United States is experiencing a nationwide labor shortage, and as minimum wage and other employee costs increase, retaining an adequate workforce is becoming more and more difficult. Value-added produce arrives sliced, diced, and ready-to-use, which saves businesses time and money. Instead of prepping onions, employees can dedicate time to other essential tasks.

Once you have a reliable workforce in place, you don’t want to lose them to injury. Cuts are the number one most common injury in commercial kitchens. Value-added fresh produce means less cutting and less risk.

Value-Add Number Two: Consistent Yield and Quality

When you purchase bulk vegetables, you can never be quite sure exactly what you are going to get. Did you know that a third of a sack of bulk onions is waste? That means you aren’t really getting 50 lbs of usable onion in that 50 lb sack.

On the other hand, when you buy value-added onions, you know exactly what you are going to get. Value-added onions arrive with consistent quality and consistent yield every time. When you buy a 30 lbs box of Gills Whole Peeled Onions, you get 30 lbs of ready-to-use onions.

Plus, the cost of value-added products doesn’t change by season or based on demand. That means you get the bonus benefit of consistent pricing, too.

Value-Add Number Three: Cleaner Kitchen

Unprepped, raw vegetables can bring unsanitary dirt and bacteria into your kitchen. Raw bulk onions are one of the worst offenders. Our testing shows that bulk onions can contain 100 to 1000 times more bacteria, yeasts, and molds than our value-added onions. The minute contaminants enter your kitchen, they can spread to other surfaces and foods.

Value-added produce increases your confidence that your kitchen, and the food leaving it, is clean and safe for everyone.

Ready, Get Set, Get Value-Added

At Gills Onions, we know that value-added fresh produce is one of the most valuable investments you can make. It improves nearly every aspect of foodservice, from the time ingredients arrive in your kitchen to the time someone eats your food. Value-added produce means less prep, less waste, more safety, and — if you’re using Gills Onions – more taste. So don’t wait. Start adding value to your business with value-added fresh produce today.

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

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. 

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