Las Vegas distributor and processor grows into modern, upscale plant

Step inside the new lobby of Las Vegas-based Get Fresh Sales Inc., and you might think you’ve stepped into a trendy club. A polished concrete floor, concrete reception desk, hip furniture and stainless steel and glass give off a classy, upscale vibe.

That impression was intentional because impact is important in a flashy town like Vegas, so the plant needed a “wow” factor, said Barbara Hulick, director of operations for Fresh Cuts LLC, a sister company to Get Fresh Sales housed in the new building. Fresh Cuts, and Get Fresh Sales, service foodservice customers in the Las Vegas area, and that means casinos.

The owners Dominic Caldara, Scott Goldberg and John Wise wanted to bring customers in to see the new distribution and processing facility, so the interior design had to be impressive. It doesn’t stop in the lobby – even the receiving area in the loading docks has polished concrete counters, protected from forklifts by barriers, and a large flat-panel television displaying the security camera feeds.

The employees at Get Fresh Sales and Fresh Cuts LLC have to be just as knowledgeable about their customers as they are about their product. Hulick is an ACF certified Executive Chef, so she can talk directly to the end foodservice user to make sure they get the exact cut they want for the menu – a perfect example being julienne cuts.

“It’s easier to talk chef-to-chef,” Hulick said, “because we speak the same language.”

New Facilities

Get Fresh Sales, like many in the produce industry, grew from humble beginnings. In 1990, the company started with two trucks and a rented cooler space. By 1993 the Get Fresh had grown large enough to build a 20,000 square foot distribution center that was state of the art at the time. Over the next decade, that plant was expanded to almost 70,000 square feet, and in 1997 3,500 square feet were devoted to a new fresh-cut processing line.

By 2001, the company had once again outgrown its facility, so plans for a new, state-of-the-art distribution and fresh-cut facility were drawn up. But the economy turned following the Sept. 11 attacks, and the owners decided to hold off on the construction. Five years later, they were back to those plans and construction on the new Get Fresh and Fresh Cuts facility started, with the new plant going up just two blocks from the old one.

When it was completed in mid-2007, the company had a 142,000 square foot facility – double the size of the old plant – and a fresh-cut area of 24,000 square feet. The building is gated and secured, with inbound truck drivers checking into a secured and monitored receiving area. Inbound drivers have their own waiting area behind receiving, so they’re not in any areas where they could come into contact with the produce.

But produce offloaded at the Get Fresh facility is kept cool on a refrigerated receiving dock, and is quickly loaded into one of many coolers. Each cooler has insulated walls, concrete curbs with sloped tops and sloped floors that go into trench drains, which lead into funnel drains with baskets. Every one of the coolers is set at the specific temperature and humidity for the produce it holds.

Get Fresh repacks tomatoes, and that operation has space next to the fresh-cut area, both under the watchful eye of the quality assurance manager, whose office has windows on two sides that look into the fresh-cut and repack areas.

The raw product that Fresh Cuts processes comes from Get Fresh who happens to be the largest fresh produce distributor in Nevada, then the processing side sells it back to the distributor, which is an ideal situation from a sourcing and sales perspective, Hulick said.

The fresh-cut side has six lines and 150 employees that process about 750 items during two nine-hour shifts, with four hours downtime for the sanitation crew to come through. Of the six lines, one is dedicated solely to fruit and the other lines do a mix of machine-cutting and hand-cutting, which Hulick said was necessary because she hasn’t found a machine that can cut a bias cut consistently.

The processing room is self-contained with only one access point for employees – and the computer-controlled access points restrict employee movement to and from other parts of the facility. Raw product enters through conveyors in a separate room after all product is removed from field packing boxes and placed into sanitized RPCs.

The processing room is kept in positive pressure with a Phoenix refrigeration unit that exchanges the air 13 times an hour and keeps the temperature around 38º F during operations, then warms the room for the sanitation crew to do its job.

Because time constraints for the fresh-cut operations differ from the cold storage, the fresh-cut side has its own break area, with a bank of microwaves that Hulick said she worked hard to get. There’s also a station in the break area where employees get their smocks and hand equipment. They turn in their badges to get a knife, a system that the employees worked out themselves, Hulick said. Retention of hand tools is up to 95 percent since that was implemented.

Food Safety

The Get Fresh and Fresh Cuts plant was built with food safety in mind, but also in preserving quality. Because temperature and the cold chain is the most important tool to ensure quality, Get Fresh has redundant systems to make sure the cooling system never goes down. One compressor wouldn’t do it, and even two would probably mean they would both go down at some point, so the company installed three compressors so that there is always a backup.

A key part of food safety starts on the farm, and as a Pro-Act member Get Fresh relies on foodservice distributor’s food safety supply chain, which includes but is not limited to third-party audits, Good Agricultural Practices, Good Manufacturing Practices, HACCP and tracking abilities.

In the Fresh Cuts processing room, flume water is treated with a continuous peroxyacetic acid system – Ecolab’s Tsunami system designed for PAA. The positive pressure and cool temperatures help preserve quality and prevent growth. The room itself maximizes food safety design, with a hydro conveyor that removes waste from the room, grinds it and funnels it into trailers that go to a local pig farm. There’s also a walk-on ceiling and easy-to-clean walls and stainless steel equipment.

At Get Fresh and Fresh Cuts, a computer system tracks every shipment from the time it arrives through delivery. When shipments arrive, their contents are recorded in the system – MEASURE software – and that produce can be tracked through delivery in real-time, including the employees who handled or processed it. The software also will show how much final fresh-cut items the raw product yielded. They shoot for forecasted and historical yields, Hulick said, and if it’s lower she can compare the raw product numbers and the employees working on that line to see what needs to be corrected.

Directly across from the processing room is Fresh Cuts’ quality assurance lab. The lab uses NeoGen swabs hourly throughout the day and during sanitation to ensure there isn’t an organic buildup. If the swab numbers are above the labs limit, it’s a fail and the sanitation crew goes over it again until it passes. Those numbers are recorded in logbooks and in the NeoGen software program as the tests are conducted.

Fresh Cuts LLC and Get Fresh Sales have grown to be one the largest distributors and processors in Las Vegas, serving clients up and down the Strip. Even with a new plant double the size of the old one, growth is also in the cards. That’s why the plant was built with push-out walls that will increase the square footage by 25 percent when the day comes.

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