Exclusive Interview – Sorting Innovation Helps Eliminate Food Safety Risks

Frozen food processors need flexibility on their packaging lines, which in turns means finding the right equipment, including sorters capable of not only to eliminate foreign material, but also to meet food safety risks and product recalls. In this exclusive interview with Stephen Jacobs, global product manager with Buhler Group, we discuss the current market environment for sorters in Europe.

By Dan Orehov


What are the current challenges associated with processing equipment in general and sorting equipment in particular, in Europe?

Processors need to have flexibility on their packing lines, which inevitably means they need to run several different products through the line.  Line capacities are also increasing, so the challenge is to find machines with a high enough capacity to, provide the final inspection in the packaging line that can, efficiently detect and remove missed or newly introduced foreign material such as plastics, cardboard and wood that may have come from storage pallets. Foreign material (FM) in the end product is deemed to be the biggest risk, as it poses a health risk to consumers.  Furthermore, FM contamination can also lead to product recalls, which can have costly consequences for manufacturers – from product wastage to loss of sales and damaged reputations.

State-of-the-art sorting, coupled with thorough hygienic design of equipment, enables the industry to make substantial progress in meeting the high quality and safety specifications required to prevent FM contamination. SORTEX equipment is designed and manufactured with food safety and hygiene in mind e.g. the latest technologies for detecting and eliminating FM and defective product. Plus, Bühler machines are stainless steel with an open design, so they’re easy to clean and do not trap debris or bugs etc.

What is your company’s strategy in overcoming these challenges and being a step ahead of your competitors?

We continue to engage with our customers, understanding their current and future needs and we explore all technologies that might allow us to meet these needs. We also have a large, central research laboratory within our corporate technology group, where we carry out research on technologies that may be applicable many years into the future and this puts our thinking several steps ahead for what may be achieved with today’s technology. We continually invest in R&D to develop solutions to ensure that our customers are provided with right technology, and hygienically designed equipment, to deliver safe food to their clients, while also helping them to maximize their yields and profits.

What is the range of sorters in the company’s portfolio, which target the frozen food processing industry?

Our current range includes the SORTEX E1A, aimed at packing lines, SORTEX E1D for both process and packing lines and the SORTEX K for larger processing and packing lines. All these sorters combine groundbreaking technologies, including visible InGaAs FM and shape technology to provide a comprehensive solution for sorting frozen vegetables. Watch this space for an exciting new product announcement in the next few weeks.

  • Profile Shape technology: A shape recognition tool that sorts according to the profile of the objects, thus easily detecting EVM, such as sticks and stalks, which are the same color as the good product.
  • The newly launched InGaASHD: With an increased ability to detect different color plastics and objects half the size than previously possible.
  • Custom-designed, high speed ejectors can accurately target the defect- resulting in a low yield loss.
  • Proprietary, visible color cameras can accurately target both gross defects and subtle color differences 

What do you base your technological advancements on as main criteria?

The first step in our R&D process is to understand what our customers are looking for in future machines and to try to understand what their requirements are likely to be in the future. We do this through regular discussions with customers and taking an interest in trying to resolve any problems they face – from sorter performance issues to how easily they are able to use the machines. When we introduced camera sorters to the packing line with InGaAs technology almost a decade ago, customers saw an immediate improvement in detection of certain defects such as wood in light products or cardboard in carrots. We also developed a setup that allowed customers to run several different products through the sorter whilst minimizing the changes required to its setup to help customers running multiple products on one line. Although detection of FM is very good with current sorters, customer still have difficulty with certain types of FM using the technologies currently available so we have been carrying out research into how we can improve detection of these contaminants. Expect an announcement in the near future.

Please comment on the importance of sustainable practices for Buhler Group.

Bühler has led the way in energy reduction on our sorters. We were the first to introduce camera sorters with InGaAs technology, and at the same time the overall power consumption in a packing hall sorter was reduced by around 40%. When used in a chilled environment its does not require a separate external water chiller.

What should the frozen food processors be looking forward to, with regards to new equipment that will be introduced from Buhler?

Food processors can look forward to improved detection and removal of difficult-to-detect FM – something that is still problematic using today’s technologies. This technology should be available on equipment that is easy to clean and easy to use to support hygienic food processing.

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