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Golden Flake Ocala plant in high gear for the summer

The Golden Flake plant in Ocala is in high gear for the summer, which is a very busy time in the snack food industry:

According to Plant Manager Michael Brinkley, the potatoes rolling through the conveyor belts last week were from Hastings, in St. Johns County in northeast Florida near the Palatka.

Michael Brinkley, plant manager of the Golden Flake - Ocala factory:

"We stay in Florida potatoes as long as we can."

"The best potatoes come straight out of the fields. Good potatoes make good potato chips."

Brinkley said the plant, at 3031 W. Silver Springs Blvd., will be processing Florida potatoes for a while yet, then will be receiving them from places such as South Carolina. He said that in four or five months the plant will begin receiving potatoes that have been in storage, which increases the likelihood there will be bad potatoes that have to be culled out.

Justin Penuel, the production manager, said that on average the plant processes 90,000 pounds of potatoes in a four-day work week, using 50,000 pounds of oil (6.6 pounds per gallon) and 3,500 pounds of salt.

"The ingredient list is really short: potatoes, oil, salt," Penuel said.

The same goes for the tortilla chips and the three kinds of bean chips (pinto, navy and black) also produced locally, he said. But even with the huge popularity of the products made from corn and beans, the potato chip is still the snack food king.

No matter where they come from, quality control checks are done before any potatoes make it into the plant. As soon as a semi tractor-trailer load of spuds rolls onto the massive hydraulic lift/scale, Septimus Johnson, who has been on the job here for 28 years, loads a bucket full of potatoes and takes them to a small lab-like space and begins the process.

If the sample does not meet what Brinkley calls "the specs," the cargo stays loaded. Once the all-clear is given, Johnson will attach a huge silver feeder to the rear of the truck. As the hydraulic system lifts the front of the trailer, the produce comes raining down into a massive hopper to begin its journey.

The typical work week for making potato chips in the Golden Flake Ocala plant is Monday-Thursday, beginning as early as 6 a.m. There are 48 employees directly involved in this step. There are another 20 or so who handle getting the product from the warehouse onto delivery vehicles and about 10 more in other areas.