FRESNO, Calif. — With a Central Valley pepper crop running a week ahead of schedule and a major packing shed upgrade running two weeks behind, Baloian Farms had to improvise as the season started.
Three weeks into harvest, workers who once were closely monitored for heat exhaustion were packing peppers in much more comfortable confines.
Improvements involved enclosing a packing shed that had been open for years, said Jeremy Lane, sales manager.
Insulated walls were erected, and four Freon-fed air conditioning compressors were installed to cool the building.
The receiving department, formerly housed in a single-wide trailer, now has a permanent office that looks out onto the packinghouse floor, he said. The sales department, formerly in a quadruple-wide mobile home, also has new permanent offices next door to the packinghouse floor.
Before the permanent walls, Lane said they would create a wall of stacked plastic bins along the sides to try to block the prevailing northwest winds. Even so, dust was a never-ending battle.
“The machinery’s a little more sensitive now to temperature and dust as we get into these bags,” he said. “Now it’s enclosed, and we can keep things very clean here.”
Baloian Farms also used to use bird hazers to try to keep winged pests at bay, Lane said.
Talk of enclosing the packing facility dates back six or seven years, said Pete Baloian food safety-facilities manager. Each year when the management group met, they brought up the project but tabled it until the following season.
With increasing emphasis on food safety and the additional value-added products that Baloian Farms is packing, he said the time had come to move on the project.
“Food safety was the business reason,” said Pete Baloian, food safety facilities manager. Baloian said. “We did a cost analysis, and it doesn’t save you any money on cleaning. I think what made it more palatable is the 100-plus people here.”
He was referring to the routine cleaning that needs to be performed because the facility is a food plant. What the new enclosure does help is keeping equipment cleaner between the routine wash-downs.
Before the walls and air conditioning, temperatures in the shed were nearly as hot as the ambient air. In Fresno, the mercury routinely tops 100 during the summer.
Workers were continually trained in heat prevention and monitored hourly to ensure they were hydrating properly and weren’t succumbing to the temperatures, Baloian said.
With the advent of the air conditioning, he said workers were much more comfortable and a few even mentioned they have to remember sweaters.
The family-owned Baloian Farms grows dozens of different vegetable varieties, but peppers are its core, Lane said. The grower-packer also has moved into value-added products with its colored sweet mini peppers and Bella Fina baby bells.
It also recently launched Squash Sauté Kits that come with two green zucchini and one yellow squash, along with a seasoning packet in either parmesan and herb or garlic and red pepper flavor.