Although apples are one of the world’s most widely-consumed fruits, their popularity doesn’t make it any easier for businesses growing, sorting and packing them. If anything, the standards required in apple production are getting tougher according to Damien Gibson, Global Category Director Apples at TOMRA Food.
"Because apples are in plentiful supply all year round, consumers are reluctant to purchase any that are sub-standard. This puts retailers and packhouses under pressure to deliver consistent product quality all the time. So, too, do food safety regulations, especially in export markets. Now more than ever before, apples require accurate and consistent sorting and grading."
At the same time as striving to achieve this, many packhouses face another challenge: those who have traditionally relied on manual labor to handle grading and packing are now finding it difficult to recruit and retain people.
"Solutions are available for businesses of almost every size, whether they pack 4,000 or 10,000 tonnes per year. These solutions enable packhouses to ensure product quality; to improve efficiency by ensuring the optimum market mix goes into each box; to improve sustainability by reducing food waste; and to improve traceability backwards and forwards along the supply chain. These solutions are offered by TOMRA Food, manufacturer of optical inspecting, sorting and grading machines for the food industry."
Inspecting, sorting, grading - and protecting
TOMRA’s solutions for apple packhouse operations include the TOMRA 5S Advanced sorting and sizing platform, Spectrim sorter and grader, UltraView inspection module, and Inspectra² apple grading system.
"The TOMRA 5S Advanced, which first became available in 2021, builds on the class-leading performance of Compac’s Multi Lane Sorter (Compac was acquired by TOMRA in 2016), but was redesigned from the ground up. This is the only platform truly designed for hygienic operation, with toolless cleaning and sanitization, and 100% stainless steel and food-safe polymer contact areas. And as its name suggests, this is the fruit industry’s most advanced sorting platform. Unrivaled efficiencies are made possible by the machine’s specialized software features and connectivity to the data platform TOMRA Insight."
The TOMRA 5S Advanced’s software features provide for optimization and efficiency across the line and include programs for element mixing, exact packout optimization, and throughput control, as well as a Dynamic Lane Balancer.
When using Spectrim, first the apples are sorted according to surface blemishes. Sorting parameters can be configured to grade for differing levels of defects, so that there’s full control when matching product grades to different markets.
"The UltraView inspection module integrates with Spectrim to take its ‘seeing’ power to the next level. With a dedicated set of high-resolution multi-spectral (color and infrared) cameras and LED lights located ideally close to the fruit and parallel to its direction of travel. UltraView can identify defects which are otherwise difficult or impossible to detect in the fruit’s stem bowl and tip region."
Inspectra² is a non-invasive solution for internal defect grading. This platform’s near-infrared spectrometer can detect brix, core rot, internal browning, water core, firmness, hue, and bleeding. These detection capabilities keep bad apples out of a good box and reduce fruit giveaway.