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Satisfying trip to the snack factory

August 11, 2006|by Lisa Tedrick Prejean

Have you ever had a warm potato chip?

Not one that has been out in the sun at a picnic.

One that is fresh off the assembly line at a snack foods plant.

If you never have, you might want to consider adding a Herr's Snack Factory Tour to your autumn day-trip schedule.

Based in Nottingham, Pa., the Herr's company is about 35 miles south of Lancaster, Pa. The free tours provide a step-by-step look at how pretzels, potato chips, tortilla chips and other snacks are made.

More than 100,000 people tour the plant each year, according to Jennifer Arrigo, visitor center manager for Herr Foods Inc. The company has about 35 tour guides, most of whom work part time.

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During a recent visit, we were treated to free samples while waiting for our tour to begin. The steak and Worcestershire-flavored potato chips were a hit, particularly with the boys in our group. We decided to buy a few bags in the gift shop following the tour, which begins with a video profiling the company.

Herr Foods dates to 1946, when James Stauffer Herr bought a small potato chip factory in Lancaster, Pa. Today the company produces more than 340 snack food items. Its products are distributed as far north as New York, west to Ohio and south to North Carolina. Products also can be purchased online.

Each production day, about 13 tractor-trailer loads of potatoes are delivered. Each trailer contains about 50,000 potatoes. Potatoes are tested for color and taste. They are rejected if they don't meet standards.

The potatoes are sliced extremely thin. About 17 chips are made from every inch of potato. Yet it takes about 4 pounds of potatoes to make one pound of potato chips. That's because the variety of potato that is used - the Atlantic potato - is about 75 percent moisture.

Herr's state-of-the-art equipment includes an Opti-Sort machine that detects dark chips. An air jet blows the rejected chips out of the assembly line one at a time.

Since the snacks are mostly made from corn and potatoes, any items that drop on the floor are swept up, crushed and added to the feed for the cattle on the Herr family farm.

"We call it party mix," Arrigo says.

Pretzels are made around the clock on weekdays. The snacks prepared in oil are made during two shifts. The third shift clears out the oil and cleans the equipment for a new batch.

In the warehouse, there is a three- to five-day turnaround. Our tour guide said that if we'd come back in a week the boxes that were stacked all around us already would be shipped out and replaced with new products to ensure that everyone gets fresh snacks.

The company uses foil-lined bags because light causes snacks to go stale.

The best-selling product is regular potato chips, and the most popular seasoned chip is barbecue, Arrigo says.

Snack sales are highest around holiday weekends, such as Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day and Christmas, Arrigo says.

As we were leaving the plant, we were handed a box full of snack-size multigrain pretzel sticks, which had been made that day. They were extremely fresh and tasty. I'm glad the plant is more than two hours away. It would just be too tempting if it were any closer.

Tours are given Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. To schedule a tour, call 1-800-637-6225.

For more information, visit the Herr Foods Web site, www.herrs.com.




Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at lisap@herald-mail.com.

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