What’s the secret behind a family owned business from central California that has become the largest grower, packer and shipper of fresh and processed carrots in just a single generation? For the answers we posed the question to Patrick L. Kelly, Director of Quality and Food Safety for the aforementioned enterprise and Honeycomb Connect executive member.
No carefully guarded secret according to Kelly, one trick is to ensure that quality is built into every process with state-of-the-art facilities; and that’s where Kelly comes into his own.
Frustrated by the subjective nature of quality assessment, Kelly’s quest for superior quality control processes took a turn when he decided to team up with an engineering department and first create automated quality assessment systems followed by automated inspection and defect removal systems.
Kelly’s endeavors culminated in a U.S. patented inspection algorithm.
“We were using ultra-fast computers and cameras that were capable of acquiring a 16 bin grey scale histogram of the surface of an almond or other foreign material," he explains. "The algorithm crunched certain characteristics of the histogram into an eight digit code. Thousands of acceptable almonds were passed through the system to create a library of acceptable codes. When the system was running it would acquire the histogram, crunch the code and then look it up in the library of acceptable almonds (100 nanoseconds). If the code was not found then the item was rejected with a blast of air.”
A value-adding result of this proactive approach to identifying process deficiencies has been Grimmway’s USDA “Qualified Through Verification” (QTV) shield of approval. For Kelly, the award, and the associated unannounced USDA audits, helps to ensure food is safe and wholesome, but also keeps everyone on their toes with HACCP documentation.
In conjunction with his professional responsibilities Kelly has found the time to pursue a Masters of Science in Quality Assurance at the California State University, Dominguez Hills. “I studied at every break and every lunch hour at work," he says of his academic studies, "as well as every Saturday morning for two years.” Kelly's efforts culminated in a published work entitled “A Homeostatic System Model for the Integration of Key Initiative Concepts in Quality Assurance Science and Organizational Performance.” In the future Kelly hopes to place more emphasis on research and development as well as elements of his Masters thesis.
Having worked alongside and within the federal government Kelly is accustom to jumping through bureaucratic hoops, something which caused him much distress while working for a sub-contracting consulting firm.
“Just getting a letter approved could take months and by the time it got back to you it was changed by so many individuals that it no longer conveyed the same message. I started walking my work from office to office for approval rather than using the normal communication channels, productivity improved in direct proportion to how well I communicated verbally and in writing.” he says.
In the same vein, Kelly points to reactionary bureaucracy that responds to a perceived crisis with a strong regulatory punch.
“Unfortunately, when there is a lack of root cause, scientists that know better, tend to speculate about the root cause which typically brings either new guidance and/or new regulations. The end result is increased costs and no real progress.”
As far as Grimmway enterprises are concerned, launching a new RFID project has its own problems, but the results are reassuring, “having the biggest name in the carrot business has its advantages. One of our private label customers has essentially done most of the work for us in exchange for adding our name to their supplier list as being on board,” says Kelly.
With organic farming brought rapidly into the fold, Grimmway is on the cusp of being able to produce a year-round supply of organic produce, ensuring a capacity to fulfill the company’s mission to provide “fresh, wholesome, high quality products on a year-round basis.”
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