By: Kate Sweitzer
Each January, the Food Science Club at Washington State University and University of Idaho organize a group excursion to Portland, OR to tour processing facilities. The trip is set to coincide with the Northwest Food Processors Association Expo (nwfpa.org) and frequently falls on Martin Luther King Jr holiday weekend. Between the two universities, which are one School of Food Science, 10-30 students attend the trip annually. Over the course of 4 days students have the opportunity to see a mixture of 6 or more companies that change each year. Eastern Washington is sparsely populated with few food manufacturers which makes a trip of this kind a big draw for food science students in the WSU/UI area.
During the adventure students have the opportunity to bond in a new enticing setting. The retreat of sorts takes several students dedicated to planning it but each year builds on the previous leading to a valuable experience for all who attend. Our Vice Presidents—Allison Baker (WSU), Lynette Anderson (UI), and Amanda Wilder (UI)—were the lead organizers assisted by enthusiastic club volunteers.
Here is a little bit about the tours I was a part of this year:
Full Sail Brewing Company (Hood River, OR – fullsailbrewing.com)
Our first stop on the way to Portland was Full Sail, a craft brewery. The facility tour gave us a real sense of the scale of the operation. Despite the size of the single batch kettle all of the levers, switches, and controls are operated by hand. The facility brews 4 batches of beer each day of its 4 day work week. The combination of prime ingredients such as hops from Oregon and local water sources creates a product the company is proud of. We had the opportunity to crunch on barley, malted barley, and chocolate malt barley. Smelling different hops was quite the experience too! Full Sail also has a fancy state-of-the-art filtration system which allows for greater efficiency. One interesting thing we learned was that the yeast in a lager sits at the bottom of the tank while ale yeast prefers the top in a layer like sticky grits!
Darigold (Portland, OR – darigold.com)
This large dairy facility produces mostly value-added products such as whipping cream, half-and-half, and creamers. I was impressed by the use of barcodes to track each batch. They even do mock recalls to see how fast they can trace all of the product. Also, did you know that their chocolate milk is mixed up with hand-added powdered ingredients? The control room where workers calculate how much of each ingredient to add smelled strongly of cocoa powder. It was quite delightful.
Bull Run Distilling Company (Portland, OR – bullrundistillery.com)
Bull Run Distillery is a new business of only a few short years but they are by no means novices. The lead distiller, Lee, is an experienced craftsman living the dream. He walked us around his “huge” facility by craft distillery standards while teaching us all about the process. We had the chance to take a whiff of heads, hearts, and tails of a whiskey. Each is a component that comes off a still in a sequence. Capturing and separating the different fractions is where much of the art comes into play. Some of the key takeaways were that in a length production process such as aging planning is everything. Remember too that in distilling if you start with something great you will get greatness out of the still in the end.
Frito-Lay (Vancouver, WA – fritolay.com)
Our tour of the Frito-Lay snack facility was my favorite of the whole trip! We walked around all of the lines through every part of the massive plant. It was interesting to see a mixture of both hand operated and automated processes. We sampled Cheetos before they are fried and then once after the powdered coating was sprayed on after frying. The difference was shocking. Prior to frying the snacks might as well be packing peanuts but once fried, coated, and while still warm sampling was a heavenly experience.
In the quality side of the processes it was great to learn the level of precision of the product codes on the bags. The code includes not only where and when but also who made the product. Incredible. Over in the warehouse we stood amongst three stories of double pallets spreading about the size of a football field. That amount of product gets turned over ever 4 days! To manage this amount of outgoing products the warehouse has an advanced real-time control panel to monitor all of the trucks. Even with this expansive plant and large scale of operations, the plant uses relative simple ingredients to produce tasty products with less than 0.7% of all waste generated going to landfill. That is what I call efficiency!
Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods (Milwaukie, OR – bobsredmill.com)
Bob’s Red Mill is an employee-owned company that prides themselves on the quality they produce. They focus heavily on health and provide tours to help spread their message. During our almost 3 hour tour we witnessed on-demand batches of products being milled and packaged. All of the product looks very similar once in the warehouse because the company uses a streamlined design for greater efficiency. Some of the tour highlights were meeting with the Quality manager, Roger, who gave us some of the ins-and-outs of his position as well as a food science pep talk. We even got to sit down with the VP of Sales and Marketing, Dennis Gilliam, to discuss product development and the future of Bob’s Red Mill.
OSU Food Innovation Center (Portland, OR – fic.oregonstate.edu)
The FIC is a resource center mostly for assisting entrepreneurs in their aspiring businesses. The people who run the center help to provide counsel, sensory testing, product development assistance, shelf-life testing, and quality assurance help. One of the coolest projects they were working on was laser etching on grain to act as pores.
At the Expo
The NWFPA Expo is focused on helping food manufacturers solve any challenges in their facilities. Most of the exhibitors are machinery, equipment, packaging, or logistics providers and a few ingredient companies. The floor is a good place to see a variety of new heavy machines and demos. There are also some sessions available to attendees.
Other small groups toured YoCream (a frozen yogurt manufacturer recently bought by Dannon yocream.com), the US Wheat Marketing Center (wmcinc.org), and Kyra Wines (kyrawines.com) in Moses Lake.
As food science students, what fascinating tours have you gone on? We would love to hear some of the coolest places you have been.