Full heads of romaine are harvested when being sold as romaine lettuce (as we saw with the harvesting of baby romaine lettuce). Heads of romaine lettuce consist of darker green leaves on the outer portion and lighter green leaves on the interior. During the romaine heart harvest, the romaine lettuce goes through a processing step to become romaine hearts, where the harvesters remove the outer leaves. This results in just the romaine heart portion, with the lighter, crisper leaves in the middle of the romaine lettuce. Romaine hearts can be found in packaged salads, packaged as whole romaine hearts in sealed bags, Caesar salads, and in specialty dishes.
To see an overview of a romaine heart harvest and how romaine hearts come to be, check out the video below.
The workers harvest the romaine heads. They work alongside the harvesting rig and the other workers and need to make sure they are keeping pace. After the initial harvest cut, they remove the darker green outer leaves to expose the lighter leaves and also remove a portion of the leaves at the top. (These specific romaine hearts are going to further processing and, for that reason, are being cut in this way to help create their desired product. However, another way to harvest romaine hearts is to leave the upper portion of the leaves and to package them in the field.)
The romaine hearts are placed into bins. Once those bins fill up, the product is rinsed with sanitized water and then the bins are lifted up onto the blue conveyor belt. There is a designated worker that takes the bins from the conveyor line. They dump them into larger bins on the adjacent trailer and return them for the harvesters to continue to use.
Once the bags inside the larger bins are filled, the bags are tied up to cover the harvested product. When they have filled four of the large bins, a tractor lines up with the harvesting rig and a conveyor transfers the large bins from the harvesting rig to the adjacent vehicle. The large bins are then transported to the nearby processor, where they go straight into a cooler until they are processed into packaged salad.
Although the footage makes this seem as though it is a seamless process, there are a lot of moving parts. The crew has to keep up with each other, the machinery, and maintain the harvesting rig in a sanitary condition.
The moving parts are:
- The harvesting rig that is moving along with the tractor that is steering it
- The workers
- The conveyor belt moving the harvested totes to the larger bins
- The conveyor belt that moves the large bins to the adjacent vehicle that comes to transport the harvested product
All of the things that need to be sanitized are:
- Harvesting tools (knives)
- Packing table
- Conveyor belt
- All the rest of the harvesting rig
- Smaller harvesting totes
- Larger bins