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Manufacturers, growers & retailers join to develop hygienic onion peeler

Very aware of their role and responsibility with regards to food safety, a number of leading companies active in fresh vegetable processing sat down together and reviewed how they could improve food safety for fresh processed vegetables. From farmer to processor to wholesale and retail together with a machine manufacturer, representing the complete chain of companies involved in fresh processed vegetables.

The consortium of companies, comprising of Jansen Zwiebelverarbeitung from Germany, Gills Onions from the USA, Bauer Funken from Germany and Dofra Foodtec from the Netherlands, is led by Dofra Foodtec’s CEO John de Groot. The initiative is supported by and receives financial support from the INTERREG IV - “Food Future Innovation” program of the European Union.

John de Groot

John de Groot explains: "The past year Dofra Foodtec and Jansen Zwiebelverarbeitung did a lot of research on how processing machines can be improved in the area of hygiene and food-safety. As a member of EHEDG (European Hygienic Design and Engineering Group) we understand the importance of a hygienic design of machines, but we wanted to investigate how we could apply additional, new technology to further improve food-safety of our processing machines."

At the onion processing plant for Jansen, we executed many test with nano-coatings and various surface treatments on the sheet metal of the onion peeler. Before and after each production run we took swaps at various places in the onion peeler and analyzed these swaps for protein that serves as food for bacteria, viruses and fungus.

A 1,2 µm scratch on stainless steel acts as a harbor for Listeria

Sheet metal surfaces were treated with 5 different surface treatments, each combined with over 20 different nano-coatings based on solgel, silver, sink, carbon tubes, TiO2 etc. to assess their hygienic characteristics. Next to hygienic characteristics ,the nanocoatings were examined for their durability, if they are biocide (FDA & EFSA support), safety for production personnel, and many other characteristics. This research gave us a lot of useful insight in improving food-safety on vegetable processing machines and has even led to the filing of a new patent on this matter. The first results of this research will be implemented in the onion peeling machines of Dofra Foodtec that go in production beginning of 2014.

Example of an experimental PVD-applied coating

Additionally how the onion gets cut was put under a microscope. The sharper the knife, the cleaner the cut on the surface of the onion. The cleaner the cut on the surface of the onion, the less vulnerable the onion is for bacteria, such as Listeria monocytogenes. We therefor researched the effects of knives made of various alloys in combination with PVD/CVD coatings based on Nitrides, Carbon and combinations of these technologies.

In the Food Future Innovation project, that had it’s kick off in August 2013 at the DIL (Deutches Institute fur Lebensmittel) in Germany, the consortium was expanded with Bauer Funken from Germany and Gills Onions from the US. In the Food Future Innovation project, the knowledge and experience of the participating companies will be joined, to develop an onion peeling machine that can provide maximum food safety. This machine will be full of new technologies, materials and coatings applied to the knives, belts and specially developed components. The hygienic machine design will be according to the EHEDG-guidelines and will be validated in Riboflavin tests and Microbiology-count test.

The consortium is currently working on the design of the new onion peeler. Before the end of 2014, 2 prototypes will be built and will be tested at Gills Onions in the US and at Jansen Zwiebelverarbeitung in Germany. After extensive testing and fine tuning, it is expected that the new hygienic onion peeler will be commercially available as of 2016.

For more information:
John de Groot
Dofra Foodtec

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