by Zachariah Zendejas
Whenever someone from out of state comes to the Valley, they always ask what a packing shed (or house) is, and many even check into touring one. Even some natives of the Central Valley are a little sketchy on what a packing house is. Whenever you are driving down a road there always seems to be a truck hauling some fruit somewhere.
Packing houses are common to California, just as fields of vegetables, orchards of fruits and every bit of agriculture in between. I myself have grown up around packing houses, and most of my family has worked in or for a packing house.
One packing house that is just outside of Orange Cove is Cecelia Packing Corp., which, of course, packs oranges and other citrus fruits, with the exception of lemons. I had the good fortune of being able to sit with David Roth, the president of Cecelia Packing Corp. and ask him what exactly a packing house is. Now I have a vague definition of what packing houses are, but Mr. Roth was able to create a clearer picture for me.
“In the citrus industry the growers consign their fruit to me, and then we pack it and sell it and give them a return less the picking costs and packing costs and selling costs,” said Roth. “And that is basically the function of the packing house.”
“Any grower can go anywhere it’s a matter of if they’re going to like the packing house that they’re going to, that has better sales, cheaper packing costs or whatever,” explained Roth, as to how a grower goes about choosing a packing house to sell their fruit.
Cecelia ships to several different countries including Malaysia, Singapore, parts of China, and Japan. According to Roth, these countries have certain guidelines to the amount of chemicals the oranges can have. As such, health regulations have increased in the past few years. “Food safety has gotten to be tremendous.”
When it comes to food safety, the packing houses have to keep track of what chemicals they use, how much is used, who administers the chemicals to the fruit, and so on. Companies must make sure that their packing houses and the fields they pick from are clean and meet certain health standards, like no trash out on the floor of the packing house or in the fields.
When it comes to packing houses some are seasonal, like Cecelia, which is in operation ten months out of the year. Cecelia is in full swing from October to late April early May depending on how good the year is. When the packing house is in operation the packing house, fields, sales and main office all work together to find out how many oranges need to be picked. Sales will coordinate with the packing house to see how much of a certain fruit they have, and if needed will go out to the field and have the fruit needed picked.
Knowing what to pick and when to pick is important. According to Roth the best place to store an orange is on the tree. If it can keep a while longer then the orange will stay until it needs to be picked and sold. Of course other packing houses operate differently according to what their product is, and if time is of the essence.One of the main differences between a packing house that deals with oranges and one that deals with peaches is all in the handling. Packing houses for oranges are generally rougher on the fruit, there are pressure washers, scrubbers, and they are dumped into bins while peaches are handled more delicately because they are a more delicate fruit.
Cecelia does offer tours to the general public by appointment only, to people who want to learn more about packing houses. If you would like to learn more about Cecelia go to their website.