Tomatoes: Field to Home
|May 23, 2012||Posted by Kristopher under Agriculture, Behind the Scenes, Farms, Produce|
Back in March, I had the opportunity to tour different agriculture farms and packinghouses around the state. Today, I’d like to share with you the process of getting tomatoes out of the field to your table. Many of you may be surprised at the work and processes involved in you picking up a tomato at the grocery store. (I know I was!)
Check out the video and read below for more detailed information for each segment that I highlight in the video.
- “Mature green tomatoes”-Most tomatoes that are purchased in grocery stores and in the food service industry (McDonald’s, Wendy’s, etc.) are picked green. They are picked green because if the tomatoes were picked after they turn red, they wouldn’t make it through the packing process. The firmness of a mature green tomato can withstand more than a soft, red tomato can.
- Field workers pick specific tomatoes off the vine, and as you can see in the video, they are very quick and very good at picking only the best tomatoes.
- Packed into bins-Each bucket of tomatoes is dumped into a larger bin of tomatoes on a flat-bed truck. When they leave the field, the tomatoes go straight to the packinghouse.
- An interesting note-I wondered how the workers kept track of how many tomatoes they picked. If you watch, just before the empty bucket is dropped to the worker, the foreman drops a “chip” into the bucket that the worker will save and tallyat the end of the day.
- Bins dumped to begin cleaning process-The bins are off-loaded by forklift and then emptied where the tomatoes float to begin cleaning dust and dirt off as well as begin separating the excess leaves and such.
- Sorting station 1-This is the first phase of taking out the “bad fruit.” Here, tomatoes that are too ripe, small, or unripe are removed from the main processing line. Many of the tomatoes removed during this phase are perfectly fine to eat, they just won’t make it through the lengthy packinghouse and transportation process. Many of these “rejected” tomatoes are sold in the local market.
- Roller brushes, rinsing and waxing-during this stage, the tomatoes get their final shine.
- Sizing belts (for the smaller guys)-This unique system gradually increases the size of the holes for the tomatoes to drop through. The tomatoes are then packed by size in boxes.
- Sorting station 2-The sorters are selecting those are are USDA Grade 1′s as well as taking out any final imperfect tomatoes that may have slipped past Sorting station 1. You can see from the video that by this point, most of the tomatoes look clean and shiny, ready to be packed!
- Sizing belts (for the bigger guys)-Again, this is the same process as before except the hole for the tomatoes to drop through are bigger.
- It’s all downhill from here-As the tomatoes drop through the sizing belts, they are caught by conveyor belts that carry them to their respective boxes, based on the size of the tomatoes.
- Packed by weight-As tomatoes fill the box, sensors detect when the box is full and automatically push the box aside and insert an empty box for the next batch.
- Palletized-The boxes travel to the end of the line, where they are put on pallets and moved via fork-lifts to the ripening room.
- In the ripening room-This is where the tomatoes are stored and are ripened to just the right amount until they are transported to distribution facilities.
- The next steps-As you can see, my video ends at the end of the packinghouse. From there, the tomatoes will be transported to a distribution facility of a grocery chain, where they will then be turned-around and sent to individual grocery stores that you and I buy our tomatoes from.
I hope that you found this interesting. I enjoyed learning about the process that a tomato takes to get from the farm to my table. (There are many more steps that I would have thought.) If you ever get the opportunity to go on a farm tour, or tour a packinghouse, I highly suggest it!