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Getting to the Root of Food Safety in the Potato Industry

From sticks and stones to plastic bottles and golf balls, potato farmers encounter an ever-increasing spectrum of hazardous foreign material in their fields making effective sorting a critical element of the processing line. While large foreign objects such as rodents, insects, stones, soil, wood and plastic might be easier to spot, public safety relies on food being free from microscopic contaminants and transparent items like glass that are not usually visible to the human eye. Undetected foreign material such as glass not only carries a potentially fatal risk to the end consumer; it triggers a breakdown in trust which can have an irreparable impact on a brand’s reputation - something which, in the digital age, has become increasingly difficult to repair.

Product recalls: Something no business can afford

Product recalls set in motion a domino effect that negatively impacts every single stage of the food supply chain. They are costly in terms of business, brand and the environment – unnecessary stoppages in production result in increased energy consumption while recalled product has nowhere to go further contributing to waste in landfills. When things go wrong, a product recall can be truly devastating for a potato manufacturer in terms of financial loss and status meaning that automated sorting is not just good for business, it’s vital.web-holding-potatoes

Manual sorting: Ineffective and unavailable

While foreign materials pose a significant threat to the quality and safety of a product, manual labor also opens up the potential for human error which can result in other objects making their way into the food stream. Within the context of food safety, the limitations of manual sorting are clear however sociological factors such as rural depopulation and an increasingly educated workforce mean that farmers no longer have the same access to labor as they once did. As the demand for food continues to rise in line with a growing global population, optical sorting is no longer seen as ‘optional’ but, rather, as the industry benchmark for maintaining operational efficiency, product quality and food safety.  

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TOMRA: Improving productivity, quality and value

As partners with some of the world’s most influential potato suppliers, we’ve developed a unique insight into some of the biggest challenges facing potato producers and processors today – the findings of which we’ve used to drive innovation that continues to deliver the world’s most advanced grading, sorting and peeling technology. From whole potatoes to French fries, chips, crisps and specialty potato products, TOMRA’s potato sorters guarantee the removal of foreign materials such as stones, plastics, wood and glass.

Equipped with innovative technology, TOMRA’s potato sorting solutions can detect and reject product defects based on biological characteristics, shape and size, structure, colour and density while recovery sorting ensures no good product goes to waste. Furthermore, sophisticated LED illumination and multispectral cameras facilitate the identification of very small foreign materials and contaminants, as well as abnormal solanine (greening)/chlorophyll content which can be time-consuming to inspect and remove.

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The benefits of having efficient sorting and quality analysis systems in place are far-reaching; not only as a means of ensuring food safety and preventing product recalls further down the line, but also as a way of preventing machine damage, reducing product waste and minimizing production costs. Automation not only allows potato processors to enhance food safety, create a better yield and boost productivity – it equips them with the competitive edge needed to out-perform competitors in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

From international regulatory bodies to brands, as key stakeholders continue to raise the bar for food safety across all areas of the supply chain the responsibility of delivering a quality product to spec rests with producers and processors. As global concerns over yield, food security and sustainability grow, an effective sort will ensure the minimum amount of food is wasted whilst delivering a safe, high-quality final product to customers.

Find out more about how technology is driving safety in the potato industry with our new eBook.

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Topics: Food Safety, Potatoes

Jeffry Steemans

Written by Jeffry Steemans