Superior Catfish faced a growing demand for their products as the market for their farm-raised catfish flourished. While making the decision to expand their operation for increased capacity was easy, formulating the details of how to do so was more complicated. The existing operation could not be shut down for any length of time because live catfish must be processed continuously. In addition, the original plant was constructed before the catfish industry came under USDA inspection, so the existing operation needed upgrades to better adhere to new regulatory oversight. Thus, the company faced the dilemma of how to increase production and upgrade the processing space without shutting down the operations. After searching for a partner, Food Plant Engineering was selected to help solve this dilemma.
Superior Catfish came to Food Plant Engineering with an initial concept for expanding the facility. Clever thought had been put into their layout, but roadblocks on sequencing the implementation existed, so the company asked for our input. We approached the problem by asking company leaders to prioritize their goals for the expansion, both from short-term and long-term perspectives. The primary goal—to remain in operation during the expansion—was critical, but improving food safety, adding processing lines, and increasing refrigeration capacity were all essential as well.
After listening to their priorities and concerns, we decided to take a less conventional approach. Rather than upgrading the existing processing areas, Food Plant Engineering worked with Superior Catfish to repurpose these areas to provide ancillary functions that did not require upgrades. Thus, a plan was developed for creating a new addition for the critical hygienic aspects of the operation while reusing the older areas for noncritical functions, such as dry storage, case erection, palletizing, and employee amenities. The new processing areas also includes space for more processing lines, new and improved refrigeration, spiral freezing, and upgrades to the hygienic environment. This configuration allows for allocating capital where it has the greatest impact in the operation.
The processing of catfish requires a great deal of water. During the scaling, filleting, and cutting operations, water is continuously sprayed on product to enhance processing. In addition to the water that is discharged from the operation, the trimmings and scraps are conveyed to inedible storage. This facility was continuously dealing with fat build-up in the drainage system and trimmings making their way into the drains. Our firm was able to devise a wastewater system to allow for improved cleaning of the drain system and provided solutions for containing the trimmings and scraps before being discharged to treatment ponds on the property.
The existing plant faced numerous issues with condensation forming on the ceiling and overhead pipes. Various openings through the walls into the cold production space were necessary, yet problematic. For example, the transporting of the fish from the receiving/unloading necessitated an opening into the outside environment. Overhead horizontal pipes also created condensation points as water vapor rose from the processing lines and became trapped in the airstream from the evaporators and condensed on the pipes. This overhead dripping created issues with the USDA inspectors.
Food Plant Engineering determined that these spaces should be repurposed, and the process area redesigned as part of the new addition. This allows for transportation of the fish into the processing area without a direct opening to the exterior of the plant. An interstitial space was also created to isolate the utility pipes above the ceiling; only vertical drops into the space were needed.