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New facility gives Murphy Tomatoes an edge on food safety

by Tim Linden | September 21, 2009
Food safety is such a top-of-mind issue for San Antonio, TX-based Murphy Tomatoes that it provided the impetus for the construction of a brand new 32,400-square-foot facility off the decades-old market.

Chief Operating Officer Bill Kellner said that the new facility gives the tomato repacker and distributor plenty of space to work the fruit, place it in storage and ripen it when necessary. "We have two ripening rooms where I can set the temperature for 34 degrees to whatever we need," he said.

Mr. Kellner said that providing a safe product and taking all the necessary precautions are extremely important to the firm, and it was getting very expensive operating out of the previously facility.

"We were on the market, which is very old," he said. "It was built in the 1940s, and it obviously has the problems that come with an old building. We go through at least three third-party audits per year, and it was getting very expensive to keep our market building up to the standards required by the audit. We were complying, but it was difficult. We made the decision to relocate to a new building, which will make compliance that much easier."

The new facility opened in August with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the company's suppliers and customers. It was built with the best materials and latest technology, including a state-of-the-art air-filtration system that was developed for the international space station currently orbiting the Earth. Besides making the food-safety component easier, Mr. Kellner said, "We can pack twice as much product in half the time. The new packingline is amazing."

Murphy Tomatoes, which is a d/b/a of E.A. Brown Tomatoes, was started in 1948 when Oscar P. Murphy began buying and selling tomatoes from Arkansas and Texas. Over the years, the company expanded to a number of locations, including the Murphy growing operations in California, Texas and Florida, and the repacking and distribution facilities in San Antonio, Dallas, Houston and Nogales, AZ.

Currently, third-generation family member Joe Murphy is running the operation as president and chief executive officer.

Mr. Kellner said that the San Antonio facility is now the standard by which it will judge itself. "We are still operating off the market in Houston, but that is also an old building. We have upgraded that facility because of the food- safety standards, but we are always looking at ways to improve."

He said that the new San Antonio facility was built with room to expand. "We can triple its size as our volume grows," he said.

The Murphy executive said that currently, the building is large enough to handle the firm's needs and can be used as a commercial storage if others are looking for a top-notch cold-storage facility for temporary cold storage in the area.

Although the facility is new, Mr. Kellner said that the Murphy tomato mode of operation hasn't changed much over the years. The company brings in tomatoes -- mostly its own -- from the growing districts and sorts them to the precise color and size standards of its customers. The firm's client list includes retailers, wholesalers and foodservice operators.