Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pennsylvania Road Trip - Martin's Potato Chips Factory Tour

Although I have spent my whole life surrounded by pretzels (my family has a pretzel manufacturing business - Tom Sturgis Pretzels), and although I know a fair amount about the process of baking pretzels, and furthermore, although I have eaten way too many pretzels in my life up to this point,..., I might have to admit that I love potato chips even more than just as much as pretzels.

And, the crazy thing is that I have never yet seen the potato chip making process.  I have no clue how they make those delectable, tasty morsels.

Not until today, that is.

I called and scheduled a tour at Martin's Potato Chips in York, Pennsylvania, and now I am enlightened.  I know how potato chips are made.  I have experienced the incredible goodness of warm chips right off the line.  And, I may have purchased some chips.  Some popcorn, too.  Oh yeah, and some fancy pretzels.

The tour started kinda on a low note, and then improved as it went.  We were first taken outside of the facility to the area where potatoes are trucked in and unloaded.  After a brief discussion of what kinds of potatoes are used in chip making, we moved to another area where the smell was nearly intolerable.  If you've ever had a potato go bad, you will understand the stench I'm referring to.  We were shown where the potato peels and waste leaves the building and is shot into bins which are hauled away in large dump trucks.  Some of the waste is taken to use as feed for farm animals, and some is combined in an operation that makes potting soil.

Potato waste leaving the building
The potatoes go through some machines that scrub/peel them, and then they travel on a conveyor belt past this woman who checks them.  She picks out the bad ones, cuts the large ones down into smaller pieces that won't jam the machines, and removes any rocks that the potato picking machines may have collected.

Potato quality control
Our guide made a point of telling us that her line is manned by "humans," and the line behind her is completely automated.

After the potatoes pass by her, they are sliced and conveyed into the cooker.  This kettle cooks the chips in 350 degree oil for several minutes.

Sliced potato chips dropping into the kettle of oil
Chips are cooking in oil
When the chips are finished cooking, they are let out of the cooker onto a trough that vibrates them.

The chips spreading out on the vibrator
The chips are shook on the vibrator to separate them, and to remove any excess oil remaining from the cooking process.

Next, the chips are taken by conveyor to pass under the salter.  Very finely ground sea salt is used, as it sticks onto the chips better than table salt would.

Leaving the vibrator and heading for the salter
Heading up the belt to the salter
Chips passing under the salter
We had been watching this production line making Martin's classic potato chips.  On the other line, kettle cooked style (thicker) chips were being made.

Here we see the chips being taken in "buckets" up and over into the packing room, where they will be weighed and packaged into bags and then into cartons.

On the way to packaging
I experienced, right at this moment, my favorite part of the tour - the taste testing.  We were given chips right off of the line - warm and delicious.  We tried both the classic style and the kettle cooked style.  I definitely prefer the classics, but surely, if I were stranded on a desert island and all I had were the kettle cooked ones, I'd probably be OK.

While all those potato chips were being made, in another area of the production floor, one employee was busily making a flavored popcorn - Martin's Sweet and Salty.  

One of the four large hot air popcorn poppers
We followed the product into the next room - the packing room.  There again, the guide told us there is one "human" line and one mechanized line.

Loading twelve bags into each carton
Finally we were taken to the warehouse, where trucks were being loaded and inventory was being stacked and stored.  Martin's makes potato chips two full shifts each day, five days a week.  Sometimes the shifts are extended depending on the orders.

After a brief description about the color and other coding system on the Martin's cartons, our tour concluded and we were funneled back through the retail store.

It was a very interesting tour, and I'm finally glad I got to see how chips are made.

To me, any day with potato chips is a VERY GOOD day.


  1. Kettle or Classic - just pass me the chips. I love them and I loved this tour.

  2. I prefer pretzels. Now, I wonder who makes them (grin).

  3. I like both, but for some reason at the moment I am craving some chips:)