CHATHAM, NJ - No one really puts much thought into how the food they're eating gets to the store or restaurant from all over the country and the world. But that's pretty much what Preferred Freezer Services employees think about all the time.
PFS stores frozen food in its warehouses and then distributes them to restaurants, grocery stores and everywhere food is served or purchased. Chances are, you've eaten French fries, bread, shrimp or cheesecake that passed through a PFS warehouse. It is the third-largest refrigerated warehouse company in the world.
A group of ChathamSTEM students from Chatham and New Providence visited the executive offices of Preferred Freezer Services in Chatham and then took a tour of their refrigerated warehouses in Elizabeth and Linden on Thursday.
"John Galiher started this company in 1989 and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) was what he was all about," PFS President Brian Beattie said. "He became an expert in refrigeration and he started this company when he was in his 20s. His goal from Day 1 is to be the best. He is huge proponent of the STEM program, as we all are."
CEO Galiher, a resident of Chatham Township, is always using his STEM skills to improve the efficiency of his warehouses. One innovation has been a warehouse that stores sushi at minus-76 degrees Fahrenheit. Some of his customers include Walmart and the Cheesecake Factory.
"The cheesecake is so good, but it's so frozen before it gets there," Beattie said. "Most of it is made in Long Beach California."
Beattie explained that frozen food is shipped to ports all over the country and constantly kept frozen on its way to the warehouse and to its destination. Computers keep track of the temperature of the containers at all times. Because the conditions are so cold inside the warehouses, a lot of the work is done by robots, which reads a bar code that reveals its exact location.
"I think it really showed us what jobs we could possibly go into from being in STEM," Chatham High student Sienna Li said. "It gave us more insight on what it takes to get everything here. It's something I never really thought about."
In Linden, the Preferred Freezer Services warehouse is manned by 37 employees, but most of the heavy lifting is done by two "Herbie" robots. Preferred Freezer Services has 35 facilities nationwide and also has warehouses in China and Vietnam.
Galiher's most recent technological accomplishment is his totally automated warehouse in Richland, Washington, also known as the Polar Project. No people work inside the building that holds 40,000,000 cubic feet of storage space and has a maximum capacity of 300,000,000 pounds. It is estimated that 2 billion pounds pass through the facility on a yearly basis.
"This shows that STEM doesn't have to be just robotics," CHS student Amira Mouline said. "You can do other things like management or marketing and still have STEM-related jobs. You think of a STEM job as being in a lab or something, but you can be working in a STEM job in an office in Chatham, New Jersey."
Robot "Herbie" reads the barcode to deliver the pallet for delivery
"Herbie" the robot doesn't mind the zero degree temperature in the warehouse where the food is stored before delivery by Preferred Freezer Services