Sandridge Food Corp. (www.sandridge.com), Medina, Ohio, produces fresh deli salads, soups, entrees, desserts, sauces and dips for grocery and foodservice customers. In doing so, the company holds dear its brand promise to "always provide unrivaled, great tasting fresh food with consistent hand-made quality," and has aggressively worked to cater to consumer demand for freshness, healthfulness and minimal use of preservatives.
The family-owned company, now in its 52nd year, does a lot of things the old-fashioned way. But it’s also looking to the future. This is evidenced by the company’s $5 million investment of a high-pressure processing line, which began operations in 2010. Put simply, HPP uses cold water at extremely high pressure to kill harmful bacteria and eliminate the need for preservatives. While HPP has proved beneficial across many kinds of food products, the installation at Sandridge may be one of the broadest applications of the technology, owing to the company’s diverse product line.
While the new HPP line represents the state of the art in preserving freshness and safety, it’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the company’s overall focus on fresh, prepared refrigerated foods. HPP isn’t used on most of the foods the company processes. But the same dedication to freshness and safety is applied to all of its products, more than 750 SKUs in all.
"We're all about fresh — we don't do anything frozen," says Barry Pioske, vice president of plant operations. In keeping with a corporate philosophy that puts a premium on freshness and healthfulness, Sandridge's certified Safe Quality Food (SQF) 2000 Level 2 facility places heavy emphasis on making sure high-quality ingredients stay that way.
For instance, the plant maintains a vegetable preparation and specialty product-packing area that occupies "quite an extensive area in our plant, where we do nothing but process hand-mix and hand-pack fresh vegetables and ingredients to go into our salads and soups,” says Pioske. “We have some lines that are more automated, but we've always kept this specialty area, where we produce a very large lineup of products that's truly handmade. There's no automation in those lines, and this gives us a very superior product."
HPP for future growth
Mark Sandridge, company CEO, has called HPP a "game changer" — not just for the company but for the fresh, refrigerated foods category — for its ability to allow processors to ship safe, higher quality products while eliminating preservatives.
Since the mid-1990s, HPP has proven its worth at destroying food borne pathogens; preserving the color, flavor, nutritional content and physical integrity of foods and doing so while eliminating the need for preservatives. It works across a wide range of products, including fruit and vegetable juices; shellfish and finfish; ready-to-eat and whole muscle meat and poultry; salads, dressings and more. Leading processors such as Hormel, Tyson and Kraft have been using it for years.
And now Sandridge is applying it to portions of its own range of soups, protein salads, pasta salads, sauces and fresh-vegetable salads. Already, lessons are being learned, such as the usefulness of processing fresh vegetables, which are very hard to clean, with HPP to extend freshness and shelf life. But while much of the emphasis on HPP across the industry is on extending shelf life, both Pioske and Jim Meadows, vice president of facilities and process improvement, adamantly oppose stressing this fact over freshness and quality.
For example, in addition to eliminating preservatives, HPP allows a processor to reduce excessive salt, vinegar and citric acid that might find its way into a formula, compromising it from the better-tasting products developed by chefs in the R&D kitchen.