McEntire Produce Food
Processing and Distribution Facility

OBJECTIVE: a world-class fresh produce processing facility that provides a clean, healthy work environment that streamlines the delivery of the freshest, safest and most sustainably processed produce to customers throughout the Southeast and MidAtlantic

CLIENT: McEntire Produce

LOCATION: Columbia, South Carolina

SIZE: 166,000-square-feet with a two-story, 24,000-square-foot office with employee amenities and transportation support

ACCREDITATIONS:

  • IEH validated Simply Clean wash system
  • Global Food Safety Initiative/British Retail Consortium certified
  • Quality Assurance International Organic certified
  • Star-K kosher certified
  • US military approved
  • AiroCide PPT Seal of Air Security
  • SC Department of Agriculture/FDA audits
  • Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) verification
  • EPA WasteWise member

COST: $19.5 million

For three generations, and since long before federal food safety standards were put into place, the McEntire family has demonstrated concern for protecting public health. From humble beginnings in 1938 as tomato repackers selling at the open-air South Carolina State Farmers Market, the McEntire family improvised and innovated to find ways to ensure their produce was fresh and clean. In the process, McEntire Produce has become the largest family-owned fresh produce processor in the Southeast, handling more than 700 fresh-cut, repacked, wholesale and retail products every day.

As McEntire grew from a local repacker to a regional retail, wholesale and quick-serve foodservice supplier, its outdated facility hindered its ability to maintain cleanliness or efficiency in its operation. The facility’s vintage construction and confined location precluded upgrades in receiving, refrigeration, product handling, workflow, and sanitation due to insurmountable costs. At the same time, existing cleaning regimens discharged huge amounts of wastewater and organic solids into municipal wastewater systems, a practice that was expensive, burdensome to the local municipal waterworks and, ultimately, unsustainable.

Teaming with the firm’s next generation of ownership, Carlisle Associates conceived a large, fully refrigerated facility with extensive environmental, safety and quality controls where fresh-cut, repacked, wholesale and retail products are processed safely and efficiently under one roof. In keeping with McEntire’s values, the facility is designed to encourage continuous improvement, environmental stewardship, and worker satisfaction.

The design’s foundation is an end-to-end strategy for moving people and produce through the process, carefully maintaining the cold chain at each link. The entire facility is conditioned by an ammonia refrigeration system, an innovative and highly efficient technology that tightly regulates temperature from 38°-55°F, depending upon the requirements of each space. Because produce is transported by refrigerated vehicle, 25 fully enclosed clean docks are equipped with specially designed doors, levelers and seals to equalize temperature and moisture levels and prevent air loss. Similarly, worker access is controlled by end-to-end procedures that minimize potential contamination points and maximize comfort and convenience.

An extensive process waste management system speeds clean up and minimizes water use. As produce is unpacked, separated and staged for processing, discarded trimmings and outer layers, damaged product and other solids are collected and carried to a proprietary single-pass wash system that suspends and filters sand, dirt and loose organic particles through a series of sloping stainless steel troughs. The filtered sand and silage are collected by conveyor, deposited in trucks, and sold in the secondary market. This unique water conservation technology monitors, recirculates and reuses water in the system, conserving a minimum of 50 million gallons of water each year.

The cleaned produce continues along its journey across the plant’s 92,000-square-foot process-ing area, a secure, food-safe environment that maintained through the use of Clean-In-Place technology. An additional 50,000 square feet of space houses McEntire’s on-site quality assurance labs, microbiology and food safety staff, administrative offices, and storage and support areas. McEntire operates its own refrigerated trucking fleet, and on-site development includes fuel islands, truck maintenance facilities, guardhouse and vehicle circulation, andem-ployee security.

Built to anticipate ongoing expansion and upgrades, McEntire’s processing and distribution facility also effectively conserves available resources by recycling, reusing or recovering 98 percent of all materials that pass through the facility.