Sicily is well-known and respected for more than a few things - a unique heritage and rich, fertile soil come immediately to mind. It has a world-class reputation for providing the finest ingredients and is one of the largest producers of olives and cheese, along with grapes and tomatoes. It is from here that one of North America’s leading importers selects olives direct from the tree to make its famous Mediterranean olive oil products. The company also selects fresh, hard Italian cheeses from the region, which are processed naturally.
The company has been in operation for over half a century in beautiful California. With its roots deep in the founder’s hometown in northwest Sicily, the company has become known for its superb quality olive oil and cheese products. “The owners return to Sicily often for business, family, and friends,” says the plant manager. “We never compromise quality, so for business, it’s about making sure we’re picking the most fragrant and appetizing olives and selecting the freshest hard cheeses.”
Operating within a 74,000-sq-ft processing and packaging facility, the plant has undergone its share of additions and upgrades, with the latest taking place in early 2013. “When it comes to the way we process, we use state-of-the-art machinery,” states the plant manager. “Each of our lines is set-up to produce fresh products that are packaged to order. We carry no inventory of pre-packaged stock.”
The company takes olives that are hand-picked from the tree and cold presses them within 24 hours to ensure they capture the richest and most aromatic part of the olive oil. The oil is then packed in stainless steel chromium tanks to preserve the aroma and taste until ready for the bottling stage.
When it comes to cheese, the company feels handling it the old way, is the best way. The hydration system is mechanical but the cheese is processed naturally. The cheese is shredded or grated, and perhaps custom blended, before it enters a linear scale, passes through a metal detector, and finally a bagger as it is packaged to order.
Despite the popularity of its select olive oil brands, as well as the company’s own brand of cheeses sold to a customer base that includes some of the largest grocery retailers, distributors, and food service companies in North America, the company also handles private label interests.
“We produce 33 SKUs of our own cheese brand and over 10 SKUs of our olive oil brands but, if we include all of the private labeling, we produce well over triple that amount,” says the plant manager.
If one of North America’s leading importers is particular about producing products with the finest ingredients, it is even more so when it comes to food safety. The plant manager acknowledges that it takes food safety seriously, ensuring that, throughout processing, products are continuously monitored and measured for integrity.
“The facility follows a stringent HACCP (hazard and critical control point) program and already has a SQF 2000 Level I certification,” says the plant manager.
The company recently tested to receive a SQF 2000 Level II certification. Prior to testing, the company consulted with The Loma Systems Group regional sales manager, Kristina Vargas. Given the strategic nature of the request, Vargas chose to visit the plant before making any recommendations. “Even though they already had three IQ3 metal detectors in place, I wanted to evaluate their production needs,” says Vargas. “To help them achieve Level II certification and meet the guidelines in their HACCP program, we needed to put the right systems in the right places.”
Loma Systems recently joined forces with Lock Inspection, and representatives of both companies have access to new products, merging industry-leading technologies for a best-in-class inspection line-up. Vargas didn’t hesitate to incorporate systems from both companies. “It’s all about which technology works best for their application,” says Vargas.
Vargas opted to place three additional metal detectors on the company’s other conveyor-style production lines, which inspect various-sized products post-packaging. However, she opted to include the new IQ3+ control panel on the metal detectors. “The IQ3+ control panel comes with several new features including a 20% increase in field strength through improved componentry and enhanced thermal management,” says Vargas.
“This particular feature appealed to us because it ensures greater sensitivity to contaminants, thus improving detection,” the plant manager adds.
Because the company runs a state-of-the-art facility, Vargas knew that noise from its technically advanced systems could impair detection performance. “As Kristina explained, the new systems come with built-in software that intuitively scans across frequencies from 40 to 900 kHz to check for interference,” says the plant manager. “The system would automatically switch to another frequency if noise becomes an issue.” Technical enhancements to the noise filtering system further improve stability of the coil head by increasing its resistance to harsh electronic noise close to the contaminant signal.
“As simple as it sounds, the thing we like the most is the touch screen control panel because it’s easy to navigate, pull reports, and check contaminant logs,” says the plant manager. “It’s really made my job much easier and reduces the amount of time I spend on manual tasks.”
Condition monitoring on the control panel identifies issues before they occur and works seamlessly with HACCP contingency plans to avoid costly unscheduled downtime.
As part of the total solution, Vargas also suggested incorporating an Insight C5 Waferthin for the company’s free fall production line that handles grated or shredded cheeses. Due to its slender size of just 4.5 x 8 in., the system was easy to mount and fit nicely in between the linear scale and the bagger.
The company immediately saw inspection improvements. “Our linear scale has four scales and releases product in 5-lb increments,” says the plant manager. “Because we can now inspect smaller portions, versus the traditional 25-lb bag, the cheese is less dense falling through the aperture so there is less product effect.” Cheese is a conductive product and has different moisture levels that can affect sensitivity.
Not only did the company gain valuable floor space by integrating the compact Insight Waferthin, it also eliminated the noise associated with a moving conveyor, which is especially important when processing conductive product.
As an additional bonus, the company was able to integrate the reject system with the bagger. In the event a contaminant is detected, an output signal from the Insight Waferthin communicates with the bagger to skip a seal, creating a double bag. This method is easy for the operator to manage and to remove the contaminated bag.
“By bringing the IQ3 and Insight technologies together, not only did we form a complete solution, we also created additional confidence in our inspection environment,” says the plant manager. “And the fact that there is no divide between sales, service, and support is a definite bonus.”
The company is pleased with the installation and training for its new systems. “The technician knew both inspection systems equally well and was able to train my team effectively,” says the plant manager. Technicians are factory-trained by a PMMI instructor and have passed a rigorous three-phase evaluation process - for all systems in the new, simplified product line.
Loma Systems, a Division of ITW, Carol Stream, IL 800-872-5662 www.loma.com
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