Water Information Solution Keeps Food Company Cool as a Cucumber

Mt. Olive Pickle Company has been in the food processing business since 1926, when it got its start in Mount Olive, N.C. With the second-best-selling pickle brand in the United States, it ships more than 12 million cases per year and has more than 800,000 square feet of production and warehouse space covering 110 acres.

The company packs pickles on two shifts year-round at its North Carolina facility. During the summer, the company packs predominantly fresh pack products, whereas it packs mostly fermented stock from its tank yard in the winter. In both seasons, the products generate a challenging wastewater stream with large quantities of organic acids and salt. The wastewater facility at Mt. Olive is rated for up to 0.4MGD. Mt. Olive is required to capture all rainwater that falls onto its facility, so it is permitted based on water usage instead of effluent flow.

Once Mt. Olive incorporated more process automation technology (including robotics) and data-sharing into its operations, the wastewater team also sought a solution that would help it optimize its processes, make better use of data, minimize chlorides and pollutants, and be a good neighbor to surrounding communities.

The company wanted to move away from paper-based data collection with the ultimate goal was to transition from traditional and time-consuming paper reporting to the new state e-file process.After visiting with several Hach WIMS customers, Mt. Olive’s executive team quickly pushed forward with an implementation. The solution needed to provide four key features:

1. Enable filing state reports electronically
2. Provide better communications and data sharing
3. Ability to view data visually
4. Require entering data only once

New Ways to Look at Data

Since 1995, Mt. Olive has been tracking all its wastewater metrics and data on a number of Excel spreadsheets. Each day’s routine for Lisa Moeller, the R&D environmental supervisor, was centered on filling in each sheet and archiving the report in folders containing monthly spreadsheets. The data was collected and stored, but not always analyzed because it was too time-consuming. "I had a lot of different ways of gathering the information, but no easy way to present it," Moeller said.

The wastewater group and key decision-makers within the company visited other facilities that were implementing WIMS and decided that the cost of the solution, as well as the easy graphing and data communication capabilities, would suit their needs. "We haven't had WIMS long but I can already point to how it saves me time. The fact that I can input data that are unique to our applications is great. And now I can quickly make comparisons that I otherwise might not have made because of the effort it would have required,” Moeller said.

Using WIMS, Mt. Olive can now track the production seasons and display year-over-year trends. Because all of the data is now archived in a centralized database, the operators have been able to make new comparisons and look at their wastewater in relation to production. For example, they can look at effluent chloride discharge for the last 10 years versus the volume of 32-ounce equivalent cases packed over that time, or any slice of that time period. This comparison allows the operations teams to identify and track how production may be affecting wastewater composition in the plant.

Maintaining Compliance and Permitting

It was not uncommon for the wastewater group to spend four to five hours checking all the data to complete the discharge monitoring report. When they worked through it manually, the team would fill out spreadsheets and then go through a rigorous verification process. That was before WIMS. Now, they spend only minutes generating and printing an error-free report. It’s not just the ease of creating reports that helps Moeller. “I enter data into one place, one time and WIMS automatically generates several internal reports and even the state report.”

The pickling process requires a lot of salt, which does not decompose during the pickling process. The plant has been under a variance for chlorides, and Mt. Olive is required to create chloride reports annually. These reports are time-consuming and had involved a great many calculations and much time for recording data. The online reports generated in WIMS appear identical to the sheets they manually fill out, enabling a smooth transition from paper onto the WIMS forms.

WIMS can bring in specific information that can help Mt. Olive make informed decisions about updates to its wastewater treatment capabilities. The old monitoring process entailed walking through the forms, entering data from a number of points on and off the plant, and then stacking the forms in a binder. At that point, the data was simply archived and not analyzed. As a result, the wastewater team knew what was going on, but none of the plant personnel or plant management was privy to that information.

Mt. Olive’s business is growing quickly and its staff changes frequently. The core group responsible for chemistry and wastewater has significant experience in the industry and a long history at Mt. Olive. As retirees transition out of the company and new team members come onboard, the knowledge accumulated through years of work is not lost because WIMS captures it. The historical data offer a powerful view of the wastewater process that new operators and managers can use and learn from. They also can determine the true costs of production with each different type of pickle. Because they can track the chemicals in each cucumber shipment, they can determine whether the problem lies within the wastewater or the products.

The cost of the wastewater/sludge treatment constitutes less than 2 percent of the organizational budget, so it is not the company’s most important business factor. But when something goes wrong, wastewater often is the first place it manifests. Recently, Mt. Olive experienced an undesirable odor coming off its wastewater ponds. By drilling into the data with WIMS, the wastewater team was able to look at large volumes of data and formulate a plan of action to quickly remedy the situation.

“The town managers and city council noticed the problem,” Moeller said. “WIMS helped us use graphs to explain to them what was wrong and show how we intended to solve the problem. Understandably, if you cannot do this, they start to have serious concerns about the sustainability of the business. This is huge for communicating with people who aren’t knowledgeable about the industry. You can try to do it in words, or you can communicate with pictures."

About the Author

Chuck Scholpp is the director of integrated information management at Hach Company.

Featured Webinar