So much depends on vegetable processors. Not least, product quality to protect retailers’ brand reputations and food safety to safeguard consumers’ health. But processing vegetables is rife with threats invisible to the human eye. Potentially harmful and sub-standard produce has to be identified and rejected from the processing line, yet defect-detection can be extraordinarily difficult.
Processing is made even more challenging by variables. Sorting requirements change significantly according to the type of vegetable going down the line, the exact product grade the customer has specified, and whether the vegetables are to be sold fresh, frozen, or canned.
What is invisible to the human eye, however, can often be seen by machines. This is one of the many good reasons why automated sorting has firmly established itself as an industry standard for most vegetable producers. Other good reasons are to improve productivity, because machines can process massive volumes during a short harvest; to reduce waste, because sorters can grade lower-quality vegetables for other purposes rather than merely discarding them; and to automate the work manual laborers don’t want to do. That’s why it´s no surprise, that TOMRA Food’s sorters are in use in 80 countries around the world.
However, just because sorters are commonplace, does not necessarily mean they all have a lot in common. Quite the opposite, in fact. Sorting machines’ purposes and capabilities can greatly differ. Just as there is no such thing as uniformity in processing businesses, neither is there ‘one size fits all’ in sorting solutions.
Some sorters, such as TOMRA Food’s Sentinel II, stand guard at the start of the processing line. These pre-sorters bar from entry large foreign objects such as stones, plastic, glass, and mice – the sort of things which, if found by a buyer in a packet or can of vegetables, could quickly go viral on social media and cause commercial damage.
Other sorters, such as the TOMRA 5B, are positioned further down the line. They can be located in a number of different places depending on their exact function: to recuperate product rejected at one product-grade but usable at another; detect weeds including the toxic datura plant; remove even the smallest foreign materials or identify bruising or discoloring on the vegetable skin – the kind of imperfections that, if they made it through to the product tray, would discourage shoppers from making the purchase.
Another advantage of these machines is that they are easily and quickly adaptable. This minimizes downtime when processors change with the seasons from one type of vegetable to another. Moreover, the machines’ flexibility on the production line means they are future-proofed if the processor’s business extends to other types of vegetable. And in addition to being modular, sorters are also upgradeable.
Some sorting capabilities, such as the removal of weeds, bugs and insects, are becoming more important than ever now that increasing numbers of farmers are reducing the use of pesticides and herbicides in response to growing demand for organic foods. Market researchers report that the global value of the organic food and beverages market will expand from its 2018 level of $165bn to $679bn by 2027. Organic sales might for now have reached a plateau in the USA, but emerging economies could sustain organic’s compound annual growth rate of 17% for years to come. This will bring more weeds and mice to processors’ doors!
Another important trend, but on the supply-side, is the relentless march towards digitalization. Entire production lines are becoming connected, remotely controllable, and gaining self-learning abilities through automated data-gathering and analysis. A good example is the web-based TOMRA Insight platform, which turns sorters into connected devices that generate valuable data and process this into actionable information.
Again, this means that sorting machines’ performance parameters can be set precisely to each individual operator’s needs. TOMRA Food has always worked in partnership with customers, acquiring a deep understanding of their particular processes and needs in order to recommend the best solution for them. This ensures a high level of accuracy in specifying, configuring, and optimizing machines, with the follow-up reassurance of superlative ongoing technical support. And with the new ability to acquire and analyze data, levels of customization are set to reach new heights.
So yes, much does depend on vegetables processors. But processors can depend on TOMRA Food. For flexible and modular machines, for best-of-breed sorting quality, and for maximizing efficiencies and yield.