Ready-to-eat market driving apple technology innovation
As fresh fruit consumption and the ready-to-eat markets continue to grow, processing equipment manufacturers are launching new technology to help keep up with demand.
For processors looking to increase production capacity, Italian company PND has launched its new CB8 automatic line for slicing apples. Processors looking to ensure quality and freshness have options including sorting technology specifically for sliced apples from Key Technology, while Food freshly’s five wash solutions can help extend product shelf life.
100 APPLES PER MINUTE
For 15 years, PND has offered manual equipment for slicing apples, but as market demands change, so too must the equipment used to meet that demand.
In recent years, the fresh-cut market has been driven by a variety of consumer trends, including increased demand for healthy, convenient options that meet increasingly busy lifestyles.
To help large-scale processors like fast-food chain McDonald’s meet this demand, PND developed its automatic line for slicing apples, building on the manual line by incorporating features that both automatize and speed up operations.
The CB8 can process up to 100 apples per minute, according to Virginia Cascella, export manager and industry expert at PND. The line is composed of a loading tank for collecting the fruit and an orienting table where apples are mechanically positioned for coring.
Once cored, the apples move further down the line to the cutting table where they can be cut into anywhere from four to 24 wedges, depending on desired width.
The core itself is removed via a belt. As the cut product exits the machine, it can be doused with an antioxidant product that helps preserve freshness and prolong shelf life.
CB8 is modular in its design, which means processors can add or remove technology to meet their needs. For instance, those who want to ensure only apple wedges of the highest quality end up in packages may want to add an integrated sorting system specifically designed for fresh-cut apples.
That’s where Key Technology’s digital optical sorter VERYX can help.
VERYX integrates the company’s proprietary Iso-Flo shakes, rotary sizing and grading systems, belt conveyors and the VERYX digital sorter to remove unwanted foreign material as well as bits of stem, seeds and leaves.
It can also sort for quality, automatically removing fresh-cut apple that is stained, damaged or rotten.
“Compared to manual inspection, VERYX sorting is objective and consistent, making thousands of decisions every second to produce the ideal quality product day after day, regardless of fluctuations in the quality of incoming product,” said Marco Azzaretti, director of marketing at Key Technology.
“Additionally, VERYX can sort for smaller and subtler FM and defects that are difficult for humans to remove consistently, and VERYX is able inspect smaller cuts of apple so less good product is lost when defects are found and removed.”
As this part of the process has traditionally been done by hand, the automated digital solution offers several benefits. The sorting system not only optimizes product quality and improves food safety but also reduces labor and increases yield, Azzaretti said.
Apples brown quickly when exposed to oxygen. The best way to preserve and prolong the shelf life of sliced produce is by using an antioxidant wash.
Based in Germany but international in its market reach, Food freshly provides antioxidant solutions for fresh-cut apples and other fresh-cut produce. The company offers nature-based solutions that extend shelf life of fresh-cut products by 21 days, on average.
The company’s products prevent oxidation (browning) and deterioration of fresh-cut apples and are nearly pH neutral. The latter is important as it prevents the product from taking on additional acidity in the wash tank.
“I think one of the most important things for our customers is to maintain the original taste of the apple, whether it’s an acidic variety or a sweet Gala apple,” said Benjamin Singh, group technical director at Food freshly North America.
But it’s about more than just taste. Processors may choose one product over another because they want additional protection against certain types of bacteria. Or they may opt for the organic solution to meet organic labelling requirements.
“I think that’s really an advantage that we offer different solutions to the customer,” Singh said. “We let the customer decide.”
The powder-based product is added to a water bath where apples are dipped for 30 seconds to two minutes following cutting, depending on the desires of the end user. The length of time spent in the dip tank is dependent on the speed of the line and is particularly impacted by packaging speed.
Food freshly recommends a minimum of 30 seconds for dipping.
Key Technology’s Azzaretti said the use of antioxidants on sliced apples does not affect where VERYX is located. Although typically positioned after the cutters, VERYX can be installed anywhere along the processing line.
As the fresh-cut market continues to grow, so too will demand for higher throughput equipment. PND’s CB8, Key Technology’s VERYX and Food freshly’s antioxidant products provide options to help streamline this segment while optimizing quality, improving safety, reducing labor and increasing yield.