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E. Armata earns HACCP certification with a 100 Superior percent rating

E. Armata’s extensive renovation project at the Hunts Point Terminal Market in the Bronx, NY, began in April 2013. By November of the same year, the facility had been totally gutted and rebuilt from the ground up.

In announcing the completed project last February, Chris Armata, president, told The Produce News that the project was planned and started months before it was announced that Hunts Point had negotiated a seven-year lease extension with the city of New York.Nick-LomaxNick Lomax

“We undertook this project because we feel strongly that we need to supply our growers, shippers and customers with a facility that matches the quality of our produce and our service,” said Armata.

The company has 21 units in rows A and C on the market, and a separate building adjacent to the market that is used for warehousing and tomato repacking. Its warehouse and refrigeration space alone accounts for over 60,000 square feet.

Now the company has made another outstanding advancement. On Oct. 20, Nick Lomax, head of operations, announced to The Produce News that only a week earlier the company learned that it had been certified by Good Management Practices, commonly referred to as GMP, and HACCP for the first time — and with a 100 percent Superior rating. Lomax headed the certification process, and he described the rigorous certification process.

Lomax, who has worked for the company for 18 years, was a natural choice to head up the process. He started as a warehouseman and worked his way up the corporate ladder to checker, foreman, head foreman and sales prior to being appointed head of operations.

“We started the certification process in early September 2013, and finished it by December,” he said. “The first step was to go to AIB. They sent us all of the necessary materials and documents. I took the basic food-safety course, followed by the GMP and then HACCP programs. These took place at different times during the four-month process. I moved pretty fast because we wanted to obtain our certifications as quickly as possible to coincide with our renovation project.”

Since finishing the courses last December until the certification was acquired, E. Armata, under Lomax’s direction, spent a great deal of time implementing changes at the facility. It meticulously followed the Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures, commonly referred to as SSOP, compiling documents of instructions for every division of the company.

“The procedures call for certain areas to be cleaned every day, and other areas every week, such as deep cleaning the floors. There is also a required every six-month process that involves things like deep cleaning the racks with a chemical that is expelled from a spray foamer so that the spray is carefully contained in the designated areas.

“The yearly requirements include issues like cleaning the entire building and all the refrigeration units, which we contract out to Hughes Environmental, a local firm that is certified to do this procedure,” he continued. “Everything from soup to nuts must be certified, and any outside firms we employ must also be certified.”

Lomax stressed that the job could not have been done, especially within such a short time frame, had it not been for the attentiveness and cooperation of the company’s 16 foremen. They were trained on proper cleaning procedures, employee safety habits, such as wearing clean clothes when they come to work, washing their hands regularly, wearing hair nets, smocks and gloves, not having beards, not wearing jewelry and other requirements while working.

“Employees were given HACCP classes and received handouts on what each division was required to do,” Lomax explained. “The regulations related to our tomato division are even more stringent because we hand repack on a machine, which is more detailed.”

Certification rules also dictate that temperatures are checked on units twice a day and everything must be documented on hard copy. The foremen also conduct spot checks during the day, which are also documented. Before each foreman begins his shift at E. Armata’s 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week operation, he must complete a checklist of every detail required.

In a video that ran with the Feb. 18 announcement in The Produce News of the completion of the renovation project, the fourth-generation Armata family members commented on the project.

“Our state-of-the-art facility enables us to have the capability to repack 5x6 gas-green tomatoes for customers for the end user,” said Paul Armata, vice president. “Anyone who supplies a restaurant or wholesales out can meet the end user whether they want pink or full color.”

“At E. Armata we believe in our shippers and growers, and all the families in the field that actually produce the product that we sell here,” said Chris Armata. “Our customers are very key and very important. We care about them and we need them as well. And our people treat your product like their own — it’s their children. We take care of it from the time it gets here until the time it leaves. Here at E. Armata, we believe in the future.”

And Lomax said that future for the company includes even more major updates.

“Our strategy is to go digital soon,” he said. “We use the Produce Pro Software system, and we’re looking at implementing digital devices through their program that our foreman would carry with them at all times. They are the backbone of our company, and they have the ability to pinpoint any issue or problem within seconds. Digital devices will only enhance that ability.”

Lomax also concurs with the Armatas about how the new certifications affect the company’s customers.

“Our customers are assured of getting safe food from our shippers to us and to them,” he said. “Our shippers are required to have third-party Primus audits, which are required by HACCP, and they provide us with a letter of guarantee. This entire process and certification boils down to self-policing and maintaining precise documentation.

“Not only are we proud of the changes that have been made at E. Armata in the past year, but I agree with Chris — we did this because we feel strongly about supplying our growers, shippers and customers with the best quality and safest food possible,” he continued. “It’s been a long and arduous process, but we are very glad that we did it and we look forward to a future that insures that we always have the highest level of technologies and food safety initiatives.”