Quebec facility aims for safety, sustainability

07/13/2010 01:42:56 PM
Cynthia David

Daniel Larivee is on a mission to run the safest and environmentally conscious facility possible for fresh fruits and vegetables.

And the president of Groupe Tomapure in Laval, Quebec, believes he’s almost there.

Courtesy Tomapure

Workers sort field tomatoes at the Groupe Tomapure plant in Laval, Quebec, which washes and sorts produce for Subway and other quick-service chains.

“We will be 100% eco-friendly this year,” said Larivee, whose family’s Montreal foodservice distribution company, Hector Larivee, launched Tomapure in 2005 to win a contract with the quick-service Subway restaurant chain.

Today, 60% of Tomapure’s business involves sorting and washing 250,000 pounds of fresh field tomatoes a week for Subway and other foodservice customers in Quebec and Eastern Canada, including Burger King and Pizza Hut.

As part of its “green” program, the company does not use chlorine to wash and disinfect produce. Instead, it’s using a product approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

“There are no longer any chemicals used in our operation,” he said. “Not even the windows are washed with chemicals.”

A company video demonstrates the myriad temperature controls, computerized sensors and pure UV-treated water used in the 25,000-square-foot facility.

Employees in white lab coats and gloves sanitize rooms completely after orders are completed, and boots are sterilized with a snow-like sanitizer sprayed automatically across doorways.

The clean produce is dried to remove excess humidity and inhibit the growth of mold before being packed in boxes lined with special film and stored in climate-controlled rooms.

The entire process gives fresh produce an extra week of shelf life, Larivee said.

For good measure, an electronic chip is placed in each order to enable Tomapure to monitor the temperature of the shipment as it flows through the distribution channel. Customers who find and send back the chip receive a free carton of tomatoes.

“Our goal is to create a security wall between field and restaurant,” said Larivee, who sources mainly Florida field tomatoes when Quebec tomatoes aren’t in season. He also sorts and washes onions, cucumbers and green peppers for Subway sandwiches.

The company’s packaging is environmentally friendly with the introduction of cornstarch-based bags that degrade in 47 days.

“I think the future lies in this biodegradable and compostable packaging rather than plastic clamshells made with oil,” Larivee said.

The last step in the greening of Tomapure is two months away, he said. Rather than discarding green or rotting produce, he is working with a company that will transform the organic waste into compost or animal feed.



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