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Amy's Kitchen

2009-10-27 17:21:26.756661+00 by Dan Lyke 5 comments

I'm going to write up something more, including a few pictures, but my mom's been visiting, our neighbor works at Amy's Kitchen and he'd offered a tour last time she was here, so yesterday we went up to take a tour of their Santa Rosa plant.

I've been reading a bunch of the local food stuff recently. We spend most of our time on the periphery of the store, and we eat very little processed food. I have toured processed food production lines in the past, and that's contributed to my "do it all at home" ethos. I've seen a number of recalls for soup and such that involve bits of metal because something fell into the choppers. We also read ingredients labels, and I'm prepared to be extremely cynical, so I was ready to come away from this thinking "there's an interesting set of industrial processes", and spend some time looking at their production lines trying to understand Larry's world a little bit.

However, I was pretty damned impressed. I'll go into detail later, but they run batch production on a set of repurposeable lines. They hand-chop chunks, use some awesome industrial strength food processors for grating and slicing, and the cooking and assembly is set up such that it really is all processes that you'd do in your own kitchen, except maybe for the jar and can filling, which run from the cooking kettles into pistons that accurately measure and fill the jars, but even there the jars get filled, the tops get put on, and they're transferred to canning cookers that are clearly related to the processes I use in my own kitchen.

And I'm now inspired to make my own tofu!

It didn't automatically turn me from being a "cook it myself" person, but I was quite impressed, both that the processes of Amy's Kitchen really are just scaled up versions of what I'd do in my own kitchen, and that the work environment was pretty friendly and happy; there's a good sense of people enjoying the place and happy to be there, and I think that's got to translate into attention to detail.

Despite my general aversion to processed foods, we do have a bunch of canned stuff we use anyway for disaster preparedness, and I'm now okay with adding Amy's canned soups and such to that stash, and we'll also occasionally buy frozen convenience foods, for that "too lazy to cook tonight" time, and I feel pretty good about Amy's there too.

Which surprised me.

Full disclosure: We got a few coupons for free products at the end of our visit, and our neighbors who work there are good folks.

[ related topics: Nature and environment Food Work, productivity and environment ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-27 20:12:30.079251+00 by: Larry Burton

Industrial processes are just scaled up and automated versions of the same process in the lab or the kitchen. When I first got into my line of work I was amazed at how much of the equipment I was automating looked just like a scaled up version what I might use at home. The first automated mixer I worked on in the food industry was for mixing batches of dough for making pretzels. It could have been made by Kitchenade. Instead of measuring cups we just used mass flow meters for the liquids and scales for the dry. I wrote the software for the controller to enter the ingredients in the order and quantity I would have at home and just had an automatic dump at the end of the mix cycle. The big blob of dough just feel into some automatic kneaders and then was pumped through an extruder onto a conveyor that took the pretzels through a long oven. When the dough got below a certain level in the kneader it signalled another batch to be made.

Now there were plenty of opportunities for foreign material to be introduced into the process but I've been impressed at the lengths most of the places went to to prevent that from happening. I've also been impressed at how small an amount of contaminant can be detected if foreign matter does find its way into the process.

The pre-packaged salads concern me a little but I thinks that's more due to the snake I found in the washer more than anything else. The guy said that was pretty common, though, and seemed confident enough that no snakes or turtles were getting through the washer.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-27 20:22:00.605074+00 by: TC

Wow I think I'm gonna have to get me some Amy's. Hey Dan give me a ring if you are ever going to tour there again. I've also taken a keen interest in my family's supply chain. We are currently researching and gearing up for http://100mile.foodtv.ca/ or http://www.locavores.com/ type of diet. We are trying to decide what adjustments are needed to make this a sustainable practice for home.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-27 20:28:35.198342+00 by: Dan Lyke

I've seen a number of other food production processes (albeit a while ago), and I've read enough reports of tin cans getting ground up by vegetable choppers that I wasn't expecting quite as much human involvement as i did see. I totally wish I could buy one of the food processors they were using in a slightly smaller scale, but the construction of that beast was marvelous. And even though they used a block and tackle on a swing arm to lower the colander of beans into the pressure cooker, it was a multiple screw-top pressure cooker (frankly, I'll take my lever-action one instead).

I've got this notion that we all need to be much more aware of the processes our food takes to get to our table. We shouldn't be grossed out by slaughter houses, and we should be aware that chicken that takes twice its weight in feed to go to market involves chicken vacuums and all sorts of other stuff. I think food producers and processors should be inviting camera crews (and regular citizens) in to see what's going on, because transparency is both the best regulation and the best advertising, at least if your product is what you claim.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-27 20:30:27.522142+00 by: Dan Lyke

TC, yeah, there'll be another visit sometime soon, I need to find a day when Bill Polson can make it, and Errol would really rather take time to do this when he has more people to impress, so a larger crowd than the two of us would be good!

Also, how about lunch sometime soon? I haven't investigated too far yet, but I've read one or two good things about Ubuntu in Napa...

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-28 12:30:27.318609+00 by: Chris in Florida

On the subject of local foods, this is somewhat related: "Agriburbia" sprouts on Colorado's Front Range"