By Jim McMahon, Lyco Manufacturing
With 60 full-service and quick-serve franchised Pepe’s Mexican Restaurants and national distributors that supply universities, hospitals, schools, corporate dining facilities and the United States military, Pepe’s Incorporated has the capacity to prepare, cook, chill and freeze 3,000 – 4,000 pounds of Mexican food products every hour to keep up with its customer’s demands. Maintaining food safety and quality control standards throughout the entire processing cycle in this fast-moving facility is absolutely critical.
Every aspect of Pepe’s production facility has specific guidelines and procedures to ensure product safety and integrity. This includes the rapid chilling of product which has been cooked and hot-filled into pouches – an area of food production that is particularly beset with challenging temperature parameters, which if violated, can open the door to product contamination. Pepe’s unique system of automated, continuous pouch chilling, called Chill-Flow™ which was developed by Lyco Manufacturing, has enabled the company to keep its product moving through its facility at high volume and zero percent pouch damage, while adhering to the strictest standards of USDA and FDA requirements.
From the very beginning, Pepe’s made all of the food for its restaurants in one location to keep a better grip on production costs, quality control and uniformity. Even in the restaurant’s early days, the company utilized pouch technology for storing and transporting its products. The use of pouches is popular now, but 40 years ago it was not in mainstream use.
Pepe’s would cook its food products and pack them into pouches which were then chilled using cold running water and ice. This process took considerable time and was very laborious. They would then freeze the pouches and ship them out to their restaurants where they would be reheated and assembled into meals. Pepe’s was cooking and freezing soups, stews, beans, rice and various sauces in this manner. As volume increased, this system became impractical and Pepe’s research more efficient means of chilling. As a result, Pepe’s follows a very similar format today, but with much more sophisticated technology.