Here’s a penne for your thoughts: The spaghetti that’s served to thousands of kids in schools across South Carolina is produced in Lower Richland.
That was among the tasty revelations revealed by The Mueller’s Pasta plant as it kicked off its annual “Spaghetti Night” program with a tour of the plant at 2000 American Italian Way near Williams-Brice Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.
The plant, a division of the American Italian Pasta Co., welcomed South Carolina Future Minds representatives as it offered a behind-the-scenes view into how pasta is produced. During the visit, guests got to observe the multi-story pasta machines as they chirped and churned out a variety of pastas including spaghetti, lasagna, and macaroni. The Columbia plant is responsible for producing a quarter of the pasta consumed in the United States, officials said.
After 6 p.m. the plant transfers to its automated processing and production system, commonly referred to as a “lights out mill.” The plant refines the raw wheat to the final pasta product completely on its own until plant employees arrive the next morning.
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High speed vision systems inspect every single pasta piece produced for quality control, making sure color and size are just right. If the pasta isn’t up to specs, an automated arm pushes it into large bins for storage; it will later be used for animal feed throughout the region, according to plant officials.
The Spaghetti Night program was created in 2011 in an effort by AIPC and SC Future Minds to help statewide public schools. Mueller’s will donate enough spaghetti for one Spaghetti Night per school year for each public school in the state. The school can either serve kids filling meals for one night during the school year or use the donated spaghetti for school fundraisers. So far, Mueller’s has distributed upward of 14 tons of spaghetti to 300 public schools.
“Most people want to help public schools (but) just don’t know how,” Trip DuBard, executive director of SC Future Minds, said. “Thankfully, one of the people we asked to help us was the folks from Mueller’s and when we raised the idea of sponsoring a Spaghetti Night, they were all over it. It wasn’t a hard call for them.”
The program is just one way Mueller’s and its parent company ConAgra Foods are helping underprivileged children around the nation. The company reports that it donated 2 million meals a month in 2012 to fight hunger in the United States.
“What we are doing is providing back a donation to the schools for (students) to go in, sit down and have a meal,” said Columbia plant manager Joe Johnson. “We also donate to food banks as well. It doesn’t stop with the schools.”
The Spaghetti Night program provides additional fundraising opportunities for many schools. If a school is outside of a 50-mile radius of the plant, ConAgra Foods will ship the spaghetti to the school. Schools within 50 miles can pick up the pasta.
“It’s a great example of a manufacturer in the state recognizing that they have an obligation to help kids in the state,” said Jim Rex, former state Superintendent of Education and a member of the SC Future Minds board. “Every organization should.”
By the numbers
300 million: Pounds of pasta produced by AIPC per year
14 tons: Amount of pasta donated in the past two years to 300 public schools around South Carolina
2 million: Meals per month the plant donated in 2012 to fight hunger in the United States.
Every public school is eligible for the Spaghetti Night program. Go to scfutureminds.org and click on the “Spaghetti Night” button to sign up.