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American ingenuity, dedication sets us apart, Ontario’s Komoto says

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Gary Nagaki, Byron Nagaki and Bob Komoto in front of the Daumar weigher-bagger in the Ontario Produce packingshed.

ONTARIO, OR — Storage onion shippers in the United States, and specifically in the Treasure Valley of Idaho-Eastern Oregon, have proven themselves to be committed to quality and service, and the use of new technology serves to enhance both, according to Bob Komoto.

Mr. Komoto, sales manager for Ontario Produce, said in July 2011 that customers have assurance of good quality and quick delivery when they buy from IEO handlers.

“In terms of our storage deal, advancements in technology are available, and sheds here are using modern storage methods,” Mr. Komoto said. “Our product is grown in well-tested and well-known areas, and we provide a quality crop, both when it comes out of the ground and out of storage.”

Mr. Komoto, who holds a Ph.D. in chemistry, said Ontario Produce tests for microbials on its own and also has its onions tested by Certified Onions Inc., a nonprofit, third-party inspection service that works in cooperation with the Oregon Department of Agriculture in testing for chemical residue and pathogens.

“Food-safety regulations are not just for peace of mind and for marketing, they also may be required for us to export to certain countries,” he noted.

Domestically, “foodservice buyers are leaders in concern about food safety, and we are glad the National Onion Association really studied [the dry onion category] and came out with guidelines for us and food safety,” Mr. Komoto continued. “For that the domestic onion industry and the NOA really deserve kudos.”

He said that dry onions are “at the top of the list for safe foods,” adding, “We have the safest vegetable, and we’re still taking part in the food-safety programs.”

Many IEO onion shippers represent growers and shippers who were pioneers in the region’s industry. Mr. Komoto’s grandfather emigrated from Japan to the United States, and Bob Komoto’s father, Joe, founded Ontario Produce nearly six decades ago.

The company’s commitment to quality has never wavered, and in 2005, when Ontario became a wholly owned subsidiary of Rio Queen Inc. of Mission, TX, Bob Komoto remained at the helm of operations at the Oregon packing shed.

The operation continues to pack for a grower network of approximately two dozen farmers who upgrade field equipment while the shed keeps pace with its packing equipment.

Since its start-up in the 1950s, the packinghouse has upgraded from the ground up - literally. Originally the floors were wooden, and they were replaced with concrete. Cup sizers gave way to Color Vision sorter-sizers.

Early in the company’s history, packing was done in burlap. Today cartons and all sizes of consumer bags leave the shed. Stickers, bar codes PLUs and GS1 labels provide the information chain needed to trace the onions back.

“We have a good in-house system and are poised to provide trace-back information to our receivers,” he said.

Timely delivery is another aspect of the IEO industry, and Ontario Produce prides itself in getting product moved quickly.

“When we pack product, it gets to the market in a short period of time, usually five days,” Mr. Komoto said. “Our customers receive product that is inspected, and I don’t know what the delivery time frame is for other countries, but I suspect it isn’t five days.”

Looking to the future and a new generation in the onion industry, Bob Komoto said his hope remains in America.

“There is the impression that the world is getting close to the maximum of farmable land,” he said. “If worldwide demand comes up with shortages, what happens? Where is that food going to come from?”