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Looking inside the packing house of a California avocado grower-shipper
Every hour, approximately 32,000-33,000 individual avocados can be sorted, graded, and packed at West Pak’s packing house in Murrieta, California. In addition to its own product, avocados from around 165 outside growers are packed in the facility.
Last month, FreshPlaza had an opportunity to visit the company’s packing house as part of a tour organized by the California Avocado Commission. With California’s avocado production in full swing, it was a busy Saturday morning at West Pak. Large 950 – 1,000 lbs. bins were waiting to start their journey on the sorting line and make it into the final boxes.
Grading with cameras
The first step of the sorting line is for cameras to determine the grade of an avocado within one second. Cameras take about 22-27 pictures of each avocado and determine whether an avocado is category one or category two. Cameras pick up different colors and separate blemished avocados from green ones. In addition to the cameras, human eyes provide an additional check to ensure the product is graded correctly.
From there, the avocados make their way over to the weight bridge, which determines the size. The size ranges from 18 to 96 with 18 being the largest and 96 being the smallest avocado. “The size is determined by the weight and the size number refers to the amount of avocados that fit in a 25-pound box,” says tour host Luis Lerma with West Pak.
“The biggest avocado I’ve ever seen is a Reed variety, size 18,” he added. Size 48 and 60 are the most common. “When taking size 48 as an example, it means 48 avocados fit in a 25 lbs. box and most avocados in the box weigh between 7.5 and 9.5 oz.”
The majority of avocados handled in the packing house are the Hass variety, but to a limited extent the company also packs Lamb Hass, Reed and other varieties. After the fruit has been graded and weighed, it is labeled by three labeling stations.
Overview of packing house
Significant growth in exports
Although the majority of avocados packed are conventional, West Pak’s share of organic production is growing. “Last year, about six to seven percent of volume was organic and this year, it is closer to 10 percent,” said Lerma. Export sales have also increased compared to last year as international consumers are quickly learning about its health benefits and how to eat avocados.
Three different boxes are used to differentiate West Pak’s grade one avocados from grade two and organic. Grade one comes in a green box whereas grade-two avocados come in a brown box named “Dos Amigos” and organic avocados are packed in a two-layer brown box with the lettering “Organic”. To prepare for packing organic avocados, the entire facility needs to be cleaned and PLU stickers need to be changed out.
“Although it takes a bit of time, we run organic avocados almost every day,” Lerma said.
Eight ripening rooms have been built in the Murrieta facility to speed up the avocado-ripening process. Most retailers do not condition their own product as high risk is involved. Instead, they prefer to pay for pre-conditioning. “We condition about 50 percent of our product and see that number increasing every year. The majority of conditioned product is for food service,” said Lerma. Every single day, West Pak checks the product in the ripening rooms and makes sure it meets customer specifications. The temperature used in the ripening room is 62-64⁰F, but once the process is done, the temperature is brought down to 38⁰F to cool the product down. In addition to Murrieta, West Pak also has ripening rooms in Dallas and Philadelphia.
For more information:
West Pak Avocado
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