(March 28, 11:44 a.m.) OXNARD, Calif. — Those with a celery craving must see the new Salinas, Calif.-based Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc. fresh-cut celery plant.

The 30,000-square-foot processing facility went online March 24 and the company celebrated with an official open house March 27.

It’s a source of myriad retail and foodservice celery packs including sticks, straws, dices, chunks, trimmed celery branches, snack packs, traditional whole stalks and celery hearts.

A centerpiece of the facility is a water jet cutter that slices though celery stalks with a 40,000-pounds-per-square-inch stream of water to produce fresh-cut celery sticks with a smoother appearance than traditional mechanical cutters.

Besides creating a better-looking product, the company says the process results in less pitting, fewer strings and helps extend shelf life.

Although the water cutter system has been used elsewhere, Duda modified the equipment “to maximize that technology in our cutting process,” said Greg Tirado, plant manager.

The new, value-added processing facility, which replaces an older plant, doubles the company’s production capacity and allows plenty of room to grow or to develop new product lines.

Company officials won’t say exactly what those product lines might be, but Nichole Towell, marketing development manager, said they would be value-added products.

The company opened an Oxnard location in 1997 in response to a growing demand for its fresh-cut celery. The facility’s customer base since has expanded to include retail, repacker, industrial and soup producer business as well as foodservice operations.

The location became so successful that the new, larger plant was needed.

The facility employs 85 workers in the processing plant and should have 115 employees there by late April, Tirado said. The building also houses 10 office workers.

The plant operates two shifts six days a week and will process about 1.4 millions pounds of product each week during the peak season from October to December. The capacity soon will increase to 2 million pounds a week, Tirado said.

There are two celery stick lines, one diced line and an industrial pack line with room for a fifth line.

Food safety will be a priority at the new plant, which will undergo stringent inspections on a regular basis.

“If we don’t follow food safety (protocols), our customers pretty much stay away from us,” said Manny Alcala, operations manager.

Besides the 30,000-square-feet processing plant, the facility has about 10,000 square feet of office space and a 22,600-square-foot cooling facility.

Dandy Cooling LLC is a joint venture with Fremont, Calif.-based Western Precooling Systems Inc. Thanks to the cooler, the company can do cross docking and load consolidation on items like lettuce, cauliflower and broccoli, Towell said.

All of the firm’s Oxnard offices will be at the 860 Pacific Ave. location, consolidating Duda Farm Fresh Foods’ Southern California operations under one roof.

Duda Farm Fresh Foods is one of the largest celery growers in the world, Towell said, and also offers certified organic celery in sleeved stalks, hearts and snack packs.

The company describes itself as a grower, shipper and marketer of fresh citrus and fresh and fresh-cut vegetables with primary locations in Florida, Texas, California, Arizona, Georgia and Michigan.

Duda sees benefits galore with new celery plant
Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., Salinas, Calif., has opened a new, value-added 30,000-square-foot celery processing facility that doubles Duda's production capacity and allows plenty of room to grow or to develop new product lines.