Over the last 18 years, 4Earth Farms has become one of the largest suppliers of organic produce in the nation. Utilizing its growing operations and those of its grower partners, the grower-packer-shipper is able to supply most of its 180 organic SKUs year-round, including zucchini, green beans, Brussels sprouts and mini sweet peppers.
4Earth Farms, one of the largest vertically integrated conventional, organic and specialty grower-packer-shippers in the nation, wanted to restrict entry to only authorized personnel at its 160,000 sq.-ft. packing facility near Los Angeles. The company supplies wholesale, private label and foodservice produce to retail and wholesale customers around the globe.
“Since we handle produce, we fall under the umbrella of food handling, so we need to make sure that only those authorized enter the facility, and only employees trained in food safety touch product,” says Clint Miguel, 4Earth Farms information technology and security system manager.
Its packing facility is a Safe Quality Food (SQF)-certified site. This certification is a rigorous food safety and quality designation recognized by retailers, brand owners and food service providers worldwide.
“The SQF program is very stringent and specifically calls out site security as a good manufacturing practice that needs to be maintained so nobody can come in and tamper with the food supply,” says Miguel.
A few years ago, Miguel was looking to enhance the plant’s physical security. He began a search for companies that provide access control and video surveillance but wanted consultative expertise, not a one-size-fits-all approach.
He turned to a technology integrator and consultant with experience in the food industry, BTI Communications Group. The company acts as a single source provider of physical security, access control, network and complex phone (VoIP) systems, down to installation of wiring and conduit. After installation, the packing facility now has access controls at all doors and access points, along with security cameras for surveillance.
“Now everyone who enters has to check in and get vetted. Once they get vetted, we provide a keycard that gives them access to certain parts of the facility,” says Miguel. He notes that there are different levels of security for certain areas, such as the warehouse and office.
The packing facility’s employees are logged in and out of the warehouse and production area through turnstiles and doors. This is crucial to ensure not only regulatory and inspection compliance, but also that only authorized people wearing PPE are touching and handling food.
This approach also helps provide physical separation between break and work areas. As a result, with the break area outside the turnstiles, there is a clear distinction between work and break time, which tends to increase productivity.
At the facility, even truck drivers need a keycard to enter the building. To get an access card, drivers must leave either state identification or their truck keys. Otherwise, drivers are limited to the loading dock where they can sign off on documentation indicating product receipt or drop off.
According to Miguel, software integrates entry access control with surveillance cameras at the facility to provide a wide range of useful security and productivity information.
“We use software to view who is entering the building, and there are retrievable reports that can indicate which doors they went through at which times,” says Miguel.
“With cameras throughout the facility, we notice any physical bottlenecks of product movement etc., which we can view to make improvements. Our management team is good at noticing such things and works together to ensure that everything runs as smoothly as possible,” he adds.
Miguel says the access control and surveillance system helped 4Earth Farms’ packing facility achieve its designation as an SQF-certified site. A few years after installation, the system continues to operate reliably.
With the project complete, Miguel notes that coordinating with the single source provider on installation helped avoid disrupting the plant’s continuous operations.
“To wire the facility, you cannot block off a whole aisle just to mount a camera. We had existing infrastructure, so they handled the installation and integration [including camera wiring and mounting] to avoid interfering with our 24-hour production schedule,” he says.
For more information, visit www.btigroup.com.