COLD STORAGE- Local company isn’t just for apples anymore
Sarah L. Greenhalgh Sep 23, 2011
WINCHESTER- The recent rains are not helping apple growers or filling the cold-storage facilities.
Normally, farmers would be very happy to see any measurable moisture, but not in the middle of apple harvest season.
The orchardists need to get the crop off the trees, onto the trucks and into the facilities for safekeeping.
“We’re about at 15 percent capacity [for apples],” said Brian K. Beazer, general manager of Winchester Cold Storage, who said the number should have reached about 30 percent by now.
The 90-year-old Winchester Cold Storage, at 605 N. Loudoun St., recently rebranded its name to WCS Logistics. Its business was formerly 75 percent to 85 percent apples.
But when the orchards started fading in Frederick and Clarke Counties, WCS began storing other products, too, and now just 20 percent to 22 percent of the company’s space is devoted to the fruit.
In addition to those in Virginia, WCS has clients from the Carolinas to New York.
The company has several levels of storage. It offers room temperature for dry goods and paper products and three categories for food products.
Beyond apples, WCS refrigerates food items such as cheese, cookie dough, milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, Lactaid, gift-boxed meats and cheeses, juice boxes, onions, grapes, strawberries, tomatoes and blueberries.
The company’s storage facility for frozen goods has a capacity of more than 68,000 square feet – including some areas with 24-foot ceilings – and can handle about 9,500 pallets.
In the frozen areas, the temperature range averages from minus-10 to 2 degrees, with storage for beef, poultry, fruits, vegetables, juice concentrates, ice cream and pizza.
But it is the controlled atmosphere chambers – which WCS has had since the 1960s – that many clients like. In these special rooms, the managers can remove almost all of the oxygen from the chamber and fill it with nitrogen – bringing temperatures down to minus-18.
Some of the rooms can handle up to 85 crates, each holding about 22 bushels.
This is ideal for extended storage of apples.
“Technically, we could keep apples in our controlled atmosphere rooms for about two years,” Beazer said. “On average, though, we only store them for a little over a year.”
Once the apples or other stored items are sealed in the controlled-atmosphere rooms, those areas can no longer support human life.
“If a client suddenly wants their apples that day,” Beazer said, “we can’t do that; it’s too dangerous. It takes about 24 hours after we unseal one of the [controlled-atmosphere] rooms for the oxygen levels to come back.”
The apple crop was not very good last year, and by spring 2011 relatively small inventory was left in storage because the bounty had been so thin.
This season, it is much better, but the rain is slowing the products’ journey into storage.
The intended use of a farmer’s apple crop dictates the place where it will get stored.
WCS also tests all the crops, checking starch and sugar content and juice levels.
If the apples are for processing, as in juice or sauce, they may be stored longer and in a controlled atmosphere.
Some apples are more delicate than others.
“The Yorks are fussy and more temperamental,” Beazer said. “They can only stand a couple of degrees of variance.”
Michelle Gordon, who works in sales and marketing for WCS, said the company’s facilities around the Interstate 81 corridor have room for about 1.5 million bushels of apples.
“We have over 2.1 million square feet of storage space,” she said, referring to the six locations.
While the WCS facility on Loudoun Street has been around for a long time, so have some of its workers. The company has 45 full-time employees in Winchester, along with about 20 seasonal workers during the apple harvest.
Thomas Palmer, who has been with the company for 40 years, and Dennis Cowgill with 34, have the longest tenures.
“On average, our employees have been here about 10 years,” Gordon said.
For more information about storage options at WCS Logistics, visit winchesterwarehouse.com .
– Contact Sarah Greenhalgh at firstname.lastname@example.org