I have, once more, gone a day without blogging, though that is due more to negligence than to anything else. As I write, I am flying from Jacksonville, FL to DFW. We should arrive in DFW at 8:45 a.m. We are on the last leg of our journey.
The previous post ended with us going to sleep in the MANA offices in Charlotte, NC. I awoke Thursday morning at 3:30 a.m. so as to be ready to leave Charlotte at 5:00 a.m. We left Charlotte and headed to Fitzgerald, GA. This required driving the length of South Carolina and a good deal of Georgia as well. We travelled on many back roads and, somewhere near Fitzgerald, we drove into a black hole. AT&T does not exist in Fitzgerald, so we actually had to rely on a paper map. Crazy, right?
We arrived in Fitzgerald around 11:30 a.m. and were welcomed into the American Blanching Company’s offices. ABC makes the peanut butter that MANA uses to make the RUTF. The CEO of ABC talked to us for about an hour about the peanut industry. After listening to him (while we ate lunch) we got a tour of the factory. Farmers grow peanuts. They take their peanuts to shellers who remove the shells. The shellers then load up the shelled peanuts and take them to companies like ABC who process them for eating. ABC does a number of things to peanuts, and they do it for a number of companies. They first separate the peanuts from anything that isn’t a peanut. So, the peanuts are put through a machine which applies just enough air to lift the peanuts, but heavier things sink. This allows rocks, sticks, and opossums to be removed from the batch. Then, the peanuts are put through another machine which blows just enough air so that the peanuts stay on the bottom, but anything else floats. This separates out the things which are lighter than the peanuts. The peanuts are then sent into the heater which heats them up enough to kill the bacteria. They are then thrown into the blancher (blanching is the technical name for taking the skin off). The peanuts then have to go through a machine which—and this is truly remarkable—manages to separate out the bad peanuts. In the words of the CEO, “you can learn the computer what a good peanut looks like” and so, when it comes across a bad peanut, a little puff of air knocks it out of the way.
The good peanuts are then sent into the “butter room.” The butter room is the room where peanut becomes peanut butter. Two giganic spinning metal plates grab the peanuts, push together, and thereby force the peanuts out from between the plates by going through grooves The grooves shred the peanuts into paste. This also heats the peanuts up to 180 degrees just from friction. The paste is then pumped into the mixer where sugar, oil, and whatever the customer wants (chocolate? honey?) is added. It is then pumped out and into plastic jars. The jars are sealed by injecting nitrogen into them. The nitrogen forces the oxygen out. A lid with a foil seal inside is then put on the jar. The lid is heated, melding the foil to the top of the jar. The jar then goes through the labeling machine which attaches the label (Jiff, Skippy’s, whatever) to the jar.
After the tour we were given several jars of specialty peanut butter to take with us. We then went across the street to visit the MANA factory. The MANA factory is actually not producing MANA at the moment. They had a problem with a bacteria that might have hurt some childten being in the RUTF, so they had to put in a process to kill the bacteria. They should be up and running by next week. The manager of the factory is a guy names Loris Jarvis. Loris worked for Hershey for over 30 years making candy, so he has extensive experience. He gave us a tour of the factory and we saw the process by which MANA is made. The peanut butter (with extra oil and sugar already added) is driven over from the ABC factory and piped into holding tanks. The holding tanks then pump the peanut butter into a giant mixer which adds the powdered milk and the vitamins to the peanut butter. The mix is then thrown into a heater which heats it up to 192 degrees to kill the bacteria, and then it is thrown into the cooler which lowers the temp to 145 degrees. It is then pumped to the packaging machines which wrap it up into the labels, inject it with nitrogen, and then packages it in boxes of 150. At that point, it is ready to ship to UNICEF or Samaritan’s Purse or wherever.
After touring the MANA factory we drove into Fitzgerald itself and checked into the hotel. We went to a good pizza place in the historic downtown and then went back to the hotel and to bed. The next day (yesterday) we left the hotel at nine and headed to Jacksonville, FL. It was about a three hour drive. We got there, ate at a place called the Beach Diner, and then spent the afternoon on the beach. I just relaxed and read while others played in the sand or blew bubbles. Around 5:30 p.m. we left the beach and checked into the hotel in Jacksonville. We then went to eat at a Chinese Food place. After dinner, we went home and went to sleep. And, this morning, we awoke early and left the hotel at 4:45 a.m. so that we could catch out flight which left at 6:55. So now, that is where we are. On our flight back to Dallas. After we land, we will get in the van and drive back to Abilene, arriving sometime around noon. All told, almost exactly a week will have passed from the time we left Abilene to the time we return. The trip had been a blast!
I certainly enjoyed writing these posts. I hope you enjoyed reading them.