4Earth Farms, one of the largest vertically integrated conventional, organic and specialty grower-packer-shippers in the nation, wanted to restrict entry to only authorized personnel at its 160,000-square-foot packing facility near Los Angeles. The company supplies wholesale, private label and foodservice produce to retail and wholesale customers around the globe.
Over the last 18 years, 4Earth Farms has become one of the largest suppliers of organic produce in the nation. Utilizing its growing operations and those of its grower partners, the grower-packer-shipper is able to supply most of its 180 organic SKUs, including zucchini, green beans, brussels sprouts, mini sweet peppers and more year-round.
“Since we handle produce, we fall under the umbrella of food handling so we need to make sure that only those authorized enter the facility, and only employees trained in food safety touch product,” says Clint Miguel, 4Earth Farms Information Technology and Security System Manager.
Its packing facility is a Safe Quality Food (SQF)-certified site. This certification is a rigorous food safety and quality designation recognized by retailers, brand owners and foodservice providers worldwide.
“The SQF program is very stringent and specifically calls out site security as a good manufacturing practice that needs to be maintained, so nobody can come in and tamper with the food supply,” says Miguel.
A few years ago, Miguel was looking to enhance the plant’s physical security. He began searching for companies that provide access control and video surveillance, but wanted consultative expertise, not a vendor that offered a sales-oriented, one-size-fits-all approach. He turned to a technology integrator with experience in the food industry.
“From the outset, BTI was collaborative and set up a good strategic plan as to what we needed and how we rolled it out, including configuration, wiring and implementation,” he says.
BTI Communications Group, a technology convergence provider, serves the food, logistics, healthcare and aerospace sectors. The company acts as a single-source provider of physical security, access control, network, and complex phone (VoIP) systems, down to installation of wiring and conduit.
According to Miguel, the technology consultant was receptive to tailoring the number of entry access points and surveillance cameras to the plant’s specific needs in order to make it as secure as possible.
After installation, the packing facility now has access controls at all doors and access points, along with physical security cameras for surveillance.
“Now everyone who enters has to check in and get vetted. Once they get vetted, we provide a keycard that gives them access to certain parts of the facility,” says Miguel.
The packing facility’s employees log in and out of the warehouse and production area through turnstiles and doors. This is crucial to ensure not only regulatory and inspection compliance, but also that only authorized people wearing PPE are touching and handling food.
This approach also helps provide physical separation between break and work areas. As a result, with the break area outside the turnstiles, there is a clear distinction between work and break time, which tends to increase productivity while reducing payroll expenditures.
At the facility, even truck drivers need an access keycard to enter the building. To get an access card, drivers must leave either state identification or their truck keys. Otherwise, drivers are limited to the loading dock where they can sign off on documentation indicating product receipt or drop off.
According to Miguel, software integrates entry access control with surveillance cameras at the facility to provide a wide range of useful security and productivity information.
“We use software to view who is entering the building, and there are retrievable reports that can indicate which doors they went through at which times,” says Miguel. “With cameras throughout the facility, we notice any physical bottlenecks of product movement etc., which we can view to make improvements. Our management team is good at noticing such things, and works together to ensure that everything runs as smoothly as possible.”
According to Miguel, the access control and surveillance system helped 4Earth Farms’ packing facility achieve its designation as an SQF-certified site. A few years after installation, the system continues to operate reliably.
With the project complete, Miguel notes that coordinating with the single source provider on installation was vital to avoid disrupting the plant’s continuous operations.
“To wire the facility, you cannot block off a whole aisle just to mount a camera. We had existing infrastructure, so they handled the installation and integration [including camera wiring and mounting] to avoid interfering with our 24-hour production schedule,” concludes Miguel.