By SUE VIGNOLA
We're visiting the Dan-D Foods plant in Ho Chi Minh City, a 50,000-square-foot facility opened in 1999. It is here that raw cashews are processed into roasted and flavoured products, and also where nut and trail mixes are produced and packaged. Thousands of pounds of product is shipped to the Canadian plant in BC each month.
Entering the main office, we are welcomed by a petite Chinese-Canadian woman, Lawrende Chiu, research and development and quality control manager. Lawrende, who has a Bachelor of Science degree from McGill University and a Masters degree in Food Safety, is in Vietnam from the Richmond, BC plant for an extended work stint. Every care is taken to keep the plant spotless and germ-free, so our first stop is the sterilization room. We remove jewellery and watches, put on lab coats, plastic shoes, masks and hairnets, and are taken to the hand-washing station. Richard also hands over his heavy bag of photography equipment as Dan-D Foods has a strict no-camera policy. At each entrance to the plant’s various departments we walk over a disinfectant-drenched sponge mat. The systems we see in operation throughout the plant are very familiar to us. The raw nuts are washed and sent through laser and x-ray machines before a final hand-sorting for sizing and flaws. Nuts destined for roasting are sprayed lightly with canola oil and then spend 15 minutes in the ovens at 155°F. Any seasonings are added at a later stage of the procedure, and Dan-D grinds all their own spices for ultimate freshness.
We then pass through immense rooms where huge 800-kg bales of raw cashews are stored. The plant has eight packaging machines, where workers pack product into various size packages. We're impressed by the modern equipment – both this plant and Dan-D’s Canadian plant have state-of-the-art machinery and the latest technologies, and each are HACCP* and ISO9001:2000** certified. The plant employs approximately 200 staff who are covered by health insurance and required to undergo a medical examination every six months. We are impressed by the number of women in management positions. Lawrende introduces us to her colleagues in the laboratory, her base of operations, where finished product is tested for pathogens.
Back outside in the scorching sun, we head to the lunchroom where staff enjoy their daily free meal, prepared by seven kitchen staff. The food is excellent and we sample a variety of dishes, alongside the first shift of plant workers who shyly peek at us in between bites. We are thrilled to have had this opportunity to see first hand Dan-D Foods’ Vietnamese plant and the high standards in operation there. We also can’t help thinking ahead to when we will be receiving those wonderful cashews into our warehouse this fall, and the memories of sun-drenched Vietnam they will bring back!
*HACCP: Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Point, a distribution monitoring system used in food production for control of health hazards.
**ISO9001:2000: A family of standards for quality of management systems, maintained by the International Organization for Standardization.