Prosperous Partnership

Otto & Sons’ success as a single source beef patty supplier for McDonald’s is longstanding — quality raw material is the essential ingredient.
Cristina Gomez holds more university degrees than her petite frame appears capable of carrying— that is if her sheepskin were measured in pounds rather than education clout. Add her 12 years of plant management experience, and Gomez likely has all the job security she’ll ever need.
Not just job security, mind you, for this native of northern Mexico, also is a proven rising star having recently been promoted.
Until recently, her title was plant manager at the West Chicago facility that produces 600,000 pounds of custom-made patties specifically for McDonald’s every day on eight forming lines with a 200-member production staff. With two workers on each line, the plant turns out 40,000 pounds of patties per hour.
Now assistant vice president of beef operations with oversight for two production facilities — the one in West Chicago and the second in Utah —Gomez seems destined for even higher positions in the meat industry. Her engineering degree in biochemistry backed by a minor in food science opened the door to her first job as quality assurance supervisor at Trosi de Carnes in Monterrey, Mexico, a division of OSI Group LLC. Within five years, she earned a promotion becoming plant manager at the facility. She also recently earned an MBA degree.
Although her paychecks come from OSI — also parent company of Otto & Sons in West Chicago, IL, where she regularly clocks in to perform her duties — she also works for McDonald’s in an indirect capacity.
“Working together has made everyone better,” she emphasizes. “McDonald’s is always in the lead concerning new technology and programs.”
Thanks to a new series of pumps and grinders developed by Beef Products Inc., a South Dakota meat processor specializing in “high-quality” lean beef trimmings, Otto & Sons and its burger partner have raised the bar on production efficiency and food-safety capabilities.
“This is a combined effort between the three entities that started with a desire for quality improvement,” Gomez reports. “The previous system was auger-based and this is pump-based.”
Featured benefits include yields of ideal raw material texture since meat is not “overworked” and meat comes out of the system with a “clean cut” enabling it to hold the fiber and integrity.
“There is higher throughput resulting in more consistent product,” Gomez adds.
Quality control procedures begin at the animal feedlot level with OSI’s program of checking supplier cattle and the environment and processes at slaughter plants. OSI and McDonald’s approve all suppliers and their plants, which must conform to HACCP (hazard analysis critical control points) and other food-safety standards not necessarily required by federal mandates. For example, HACCP has been a major factor in OSI’s raw product procurement program since 1992, long before industry-wide implementation under federal guidelines. Microbiological tests are conducted on incoming beef trimmings to detect Listeria genus, Salmonella, and E coli O157:H7 at the West Chicago in-house laboratory.
The McDonald’s system applies an integrated, multi-hurdle approach requiring each segment of the chain to do its part to ensure that HACCP and process-control management begins at slaughter on through processing plants to the grill and into the wrapper. McDonald’s itself has guided the QSR (quick-service restaurant) industry’s implementation of a HACCP-based daily food-safety checklist. The computerized clamshell grill, which cooks burgers to reduce the potential for human error, is another food-safety innovation from McDonald’s. The test kitchen in West Chicago, a continuous-improvement facility, is equipped with the same grill.
The plant operates under a statistical-process-control system. Although metal detection is the only critical control point in the facility’s in-plant HACCP plan, Gomez emphasizes that the plant operates under many self-imposed critical control points especially concerning product testing. More than 2,000 additional daily safety and quality control tests are conducted on patties amounting to several hundred thousand microbiological, analytical, and organoleptic tests each year.
The entire system is designed to embrace the best food-safety-practice strategies on behalf of OSI and its QSR partner.
The name on the 70,000-square-foot building identifies it as an Otto & Sons business enterprise, but it could also be called a McDonald’s plant given the reason that it exists. The story behind the birth of the West Chicago meat processing business dates back to its origin as a butcher shop that became the family operation named Otto & Sons based in Maywood, IL. The firm joined McDonald’s as a fresh meat supplier in the 1950s in its push to dominate the restaurant hamburger market. McDonald’s later switched to frozen patties and recruited a few select beef grinding operations in line with its new procurement strategy of relying on a limited supply source of product manufactured in strategic locations.
“By growing together we have learned to excel,” Gomez concludes. “The challenge is to maintain increased alertness and awareness of food-safety changes.” NP