Speirs staff go extra mile for customers

Ask any staff member at the Speirs Foods factory in Marton if they've had an egg for breakfast and they'll probably say no.

Not surprising, given nearly everyone in the processed food plant has been on deck peeling thousands of hard-boiled eggs to keep production of the company's egg salad varieties running.

But this story is one of a business snatching victory from the jaws of defeat after eggs supplied to the factory were found to contain traces of E coli, a bug that causes food poisoning.

Chris Newton, Speirs Foods general manager, said the company bought in pre-cooked and peeled eggs from a Horowhenua supplier for their four varieties of salads sold to Foodstuffs and Countdown supermarkets. But finding the bacteria was a curve ball.

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Laboratory testing of the salads found the bug three weeks ago.

"It's a little nasty bug so we had no choice but to immediately stop production and withdraw all our egg products from supermarket shelves," Mr Newton said.

"We've had a great relationship with our supplier and this came as a huge shock to them as well. They stopped producing cooked eggs until they got things sorted out."

But that left the Marton factory in limbo, unable to supply its egg salads. A solution was needed and, on February 29, just five days after finding the E coli, the Marton factory started cooking and peeling its own eggs.

"When I said we're going to have cook our own eggs people thought, 'This is it, Newton's finally gone bloody nuts,'" Mr Newton said.

Gareth Lewis, new product development officer got some eggs from a local supermarket and with colleague Ioana Stanley, started experimenting. The end result is the eggs are being cooked in a steam oven then chilled and hand-peeled.

It's so labour intensive it's meant being creative using staffing from throughout the factory. Mr Newton works out a daily roster and at some stage nearly everyone will be on peeling duties, including the administration staff and himself.

"We've had to do that because we can't take people away from our normal production lines in the factory. At the moment, everyone is doing about an hour to an hour-and-a-half each day peeling the eggs," he said.

Yesterday, they cooked and peeled about 9500 eggs, everyone of them peeled in a sanitised water solution to maintain critical food safety standards.

Mr Newton reckons they've heard every egg joke imaginable.

He said Speirs Foods may decide to move into permanent production within the factory but that will mean buying automated peeling machines.

"We'll have to look at costings and at the moment it's very labour intensive but machines would easily handle our needs. If we were to stick with hand-peeling I'd be employing half of Marton.

"But since we've been doing our own eggs the customers have been saying the salads are more colourful and have a better taste. The key is we're getting the eggs cooked and in the salads when they're fresher. " he said.

No eggs-ageration

In last fortnight Speirs Group's Marton staff have:

- cooked and peeled 67,200 eggs
- that's 5600 dozen
- that many eggs has a combined weight of 3.7 tonne.
- laying that number of eggs end to end would stretch for 2.7km