Food plant linked to listeria to reopen under new name

A former Pasco vegetable processing plant will reopen in spring under new ownership and a new name following a shutdown after a listeria outbreak last year.

The food processing facility at 1825 N. Commercial Ave. was previously owned by CRF Frozen Foods. An overhaul, expansion and new joint venture to operate it is now in place between J.R. Simplot and CRF’s parent company, R.D. Offutt. 

Though Simplot is taking over CRF’s building, it did not buy the company in the 25-acre property sale. 

In 2016, CRF Frozen Foods was linked to listeria contamination in four states that sent nine people to the hospital and caused one death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

J.R. Simplot and R.D. Offutt’s overhaul and expansion  is targeted for completion in spring 2018. The company’s new name will be Simplot RDO.

How do the new companies plan on avoiding future food contamination?

“We’re doing a significant remodel and rebuild that includes refitting the factory to include the latest in sanitary methods and processes ensuring the highest levels of food safety. … We’re also having ongoing consultation with the (Food and Drug Administration) to ensure the facility meets or exceeds the highest levels of their food safety requirements,” said Josh Jordan, J.R. Simplot spokesman.

Drivers on Highway 12 can see the busy hub of activity at the former home of CRF just west of the Pasco-Kahlotus Highway. The building is being remodeled, rehabbed and expanded to more than 100,000 square feet to provide day-to-day processing and distribution of local crops like corn and peas.

The 25,000-square-foot expansion is valued at $2.48 million.

R.D. Offutt spokeswoman Anne Struthers referred all questions about the project to J.R. Simplot’s Jordan, who described the project as a “massive remodel” rather than a tear down and rebuilding of the current structure. 

Crews are already pouring the footing for the expansion. Jordan said the new facility will include state-of-the-art updates to process an increased demand for raw product.

He said the company chose the location because of the import and export possibilities in the area, as well as the growing population and trained work force in Franklin County. 

“We like it for the access it provides and the distribution it provides, as well as the types of employees we have in Pasco,” Jordan said. 

Once fully operational, the processing facility will employ 150 full-time workers. Seasonal fluctuations could swell the payroll to 275 workers at certain points of the year. 

“The Tri-Cities really gives us access to a work force that is trained and able to do the work we need to do,” Jordan said. 

Positions available will be in management, hourly and seasonal. The initial recruitment for these jobs is expected to begin in early 2018. 

An initial recall on items made by CRF Frozen Foods affected frozen vegetables processed and distributed in fall 2015. The recall was eventually expanded to include all organic and traditional frozen fruits and vegetable products processed at the Pasco facility since spring 2014. This included hundreds of products sold under more than 40 brand names, including Columbia River Organics, Northwest Growers Select and Organic by Nature. 

The recall is over, but the Centers for Disease Control has concerns customers may still have items in their freezer processed by CRF Frozen Foods. The latest “sell by” date for the items is April 2018.

Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by the germ Listeria monocytogenes. People usually become ill with listeriosis after eating contaminated food and the disease primarily affects pregnant women, newborns, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems, according to the CDC.

The J.R. Simplot Co., based out of Boise, calls itself one of the largest privately-held food and agribusiness companies in the nation. Besides food processing, it also has farming and ranching operations in the Northwest and Nevada. This includes the management of about 40 farms, including Grand View Farms-Pasco, as well as feedlot operations, also in Pasco. 

Simplot’s partner in the project, R.D. Offutt Company, is based out of Fargo, North Dakota, and its farming operations focus mainly on potatoes. It had been the parent company of CRF Frozen Foods before its shutdown in 2016.

A list of recalled products for CRF Frozen Foods may be found on foodsafety.gov.

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