In the state of Victoria, the first trials of x-ray technology in a potato packing facility are underway. A 32-year strong partnership between Red Gem (potato growers) and supermarket chain Coles has culminated in an investment that may change the shape of the Australian potato industry.
In 2018, Red Gem received a $350,000 Coles Nurture Fund loan to implement x-ray vision technology into their potato packing facility, which is expected to deliver improvements in the quality of Crème Royale potatoes supplied to Coles. It will also be environmentally- friendly, with the equipment powered entirely by solar panels. The trial is the first of its kind in Australia and started in January 2019.
Innovation in practice
Robert Cerchiaro of Red Gem was searching for technology to improve potato growing standards and enhance potato quality for consumers. This search led him overseas to the United States and Europe. In the US, Robert found this x-ray vision system, which is used by most food manufacturers for metal detection.
“It takes an image of the potato based on density, so it sizes fantastically, but it also sees through the potato, looking for holes, voids and density changes. As soon as I saw the x-ray vision system, I thought that this is what we need for our brushed potatoes – the help we’re looking for is this system,” bringing the ground-breaking technology into the packing shed has already made an impact on the business.
“A lot of the workload was on graders and workers who were inspecting the potatoes. They were taking out undersized and oversized potatoes because of mechanical error; they were doing a lot of that work and were still having to grade for quality,” Robert says.
“Now, they don’t have to worry about size because our size is very accurate. They just focus on visual defects – things that the x-ray can’t detect at this stage. It makes their job so much easier and it gives us peace of mind that we’re delivering to our customers the specifications required.”
According to potatoesnz.co.nz, this technology will also benefit consumers of Coles’ Crème Royale potatoes in the long-term.