“We’re doing things right the first time,” says Jeev Ramgotra, head of quality at Roquette’s pea protein plant in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. The state-of-the-art facility began receiving yellow peas from farmers in November; when it reaches full capacity, it will turn as much as 125,000 metric tons of yellow peas into protein ingredients every year.
The plant will help meet swelling North American demand for Roquette’s NUTRALYS® line of plant protein ingredients. But it’s built for more than quantity: From the floor plan to the technological advancements of its equipment, everything in Roquette's new facility was designed to make it easier to provide high-quality ingredients, as well. Its architecture literally affects the food that’s made there.
And that architecture had to be planned long before shovels hit dirt or peas hit silos.
Here are five ways the design of the world’s largest yellow pea protein plant contributes to the quality of what’s produced there.
- Safer employees. “There are two things Roquette does well,” Ramgotra says. “Number One is safety for our workers, and Number Two is the quality of the product.”
Safety came first in the plant’s design, too. That played out not only in the use of automation for more risk-prone processes, but in the ways production personnel were given access to machinery and control of it.
“Dangerous things can happen in the manufacturing process,” Ramgotra says. “The plant is designed in such a way that there are shields – the operator doesn’t just go right up to the machinery. They’ve got a screen and electronic feedback.”
And safety is just the first return all that technology delivers.
- Tighter specs. Overseeing quality control is central to Ramgotra’s role. To make that possible, the new plant was built with both a central lab and several satellite labs where team members can check up on factors like microbial content.
But labs are just the start. Many of the plant’s quality measurements can be viewed and even adjusted in real-time, as pea protein is produced.
“We have sensors throughout to measure things like protein content, moisture content, or conductivity,” Ramgotra says. “We’ve made this into a digital process, so our operators at any time can pull up data and review it.”
- Cleaner facilities. Because plant protein, much like dairy, is susceptible to microbial contamination, the Roquette plant pauses for cleaning-in-place every two days. Much of this process is automated as well, but machines are built to afford visual inspection access to personnel who sight-check cleanliness.
And the plant is laid out with a principle called “hygiene zoning,” where key areas in the pea grinding, separation, drying, and packaging process are kept separate to prevent cross-contamination and allow for deeper cleaning in the areas where it matters most. The flow of traffic through the building is also planned so that the chance of tracking contaminants from outside is as low as possible.
- Halal and kosher certification. The emphasis on clean environments is about more than just microbes: From its inception, the Roquette plant was designed so its plant protein products could be certified halal and kosher.
Not all plant protein ingredients meet those standards. Halal and kosher are about more than the food itself, Ramgotra says: The origin of filters in the plant and lubricants in the machines must be considered, too. The Roquette plant was even designed without dead-ends, he says, because dead-ends can become areas of cross-contamination and make it more difficult to qualify as halal or kosher.
“Before we even went to vendors to begin, we had design criteria in place,” he says. “And part of those criteria was meeting halal and kosher standards.”
- Organic capability. Not every ingredient from the new plant will be certified organic – but Roquette will have the capability to meet that standard when its customers require it.
“For organic manufacturing, we have to clean the entire plant – we have to ensure there’s no mingling of conventional and organic product,” says Ramgotra. “It’s all designed for that. We know the design of our pipe flow rates. We can calculate the number of hours required to flush out all contaminants, and we can do a visual inspection to confirm.”
Roquette expects to do a few organic production runs each year as customers require it. Because the plant is designed for conversion to and from organic processing, it’s simply a matter of scheduling the extra time to clean and convert.
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