CUCUMBER PACKING PROCESS
The sanitary status of reusable plastic containers (RPCs) in fresh produce packing/grower operations located in Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec was evaluated. Visibly soiled, Ready-to-Use, RPCs and those visually clean, were considered sanitary using a criterion of <3 log relative light units (RLU)/100 cm2 in ATP testing, < 4 log colony forming units (CFU)/crate Total Aerobic Count (TAC), <3 log CFU/crate for yeast & mould, and <3 log CFU/crate Enterobacteriaceae, and coliforms along with the absence of Escherichia coli. Collectively, 162 RPCs (48 visibly soiled and 114 visually clean) were sampled with 10% (5/48) of the visibly soiled crates exceeding ATP RLU readings that compares to 81% of clean crates sampled. All visibly soiled crates exceeded the acceptable limits for TAC that compares to 83% of visually clean RPCs. The fail percentage of visibly soiled crates, with respect to Enterobacteriaceae and coliform counts, was 96% (23/24) and 25% (12/48) respectively, compared to 69% (48/70) and 3% (4.4/114) for clean crates. E. coli was recovered from five (3.5%; 5/114) of visually clean RPCs. It was concluded that visual assessment and ATP readings are poor metrics to assess the sanitary status of RPCs. In laboratory trials, Salmonella inoculated onto RPCs declined at a greater rate under low (55%) compared to high (88%) relative humidity (RH). However, the rate of decline of Salmonella was lower if cucumber homogenates were periodically introduced onto the surface of inoculated RPCs with growth occurring under high RH. Transfer of Salmonella from RPC to cucumbers occurred in a diphasic manner with an initial rapid phase followed by a slower rate of attachment with time. Sanitation cycles that included a caustic rinse followed by a peracetic acid treatment supported a 1.0–1.8 log reduction of Salmonella although residual survivors could be transferred from RPCs to cucumbers. The study demonstrated that Salmonella can persist for extended periods on RPCs and then be transferred to produce can occur if crates are inadequately sanitized. This result, coupled with the unsanitary condition of RPCs sampled in the field, reinforces the need to adequately sanitize crates between uses.
The new sorting and packaging line by Christiaens Agro Systems processes 20,000 mini cucumbers. The new system, consisting of 6 robots, 4 packaging lines with a capacity of 20,000 pieces per hour, was introduced last Friday in the shed of Tromptransport in Eindhoven. The presentation attracted various (cucumber) growers, who were both curious and critical of the new sorting and packaging line for mini cucumbers. The new production line is named SortiFlex and is the result of cooperation between Beltech, FruitTek and Abi.
The system is designed for JPI, based in Leamington Canada. The company is one of the biggest growers and packers of mini cucumbers. They are in the frontline of technology in growing mini cucumbers, like high wire production and also in packing trays with robots. This serves to deliver highest quality mini cucumbers in the market on the most hygienically way. At this moment the production is expanded, new pack house is build and investments are made in the latest technology.
JPI and Christiaens are cooperating already many years. JPI was one of the first companies who invested in a traditional grading machine specially for mini cucumbers. This machine is working to the full satisfaction and because of the expansion the next step in grading technology together with Christiaens and partners was logical.
Saving on labour
Hans Kalter, sales manager of the Limburg company which specializes in machines and the automation of elongated vegetables: "Three years ago the first ideas sprung into existence". Before Christiaens supplied a sorting line for snack cucumbers to JPI "About three years ago the customer called with the announcement: we are very happy with the system. We have recovered the costs within a year and a half, but we have a problem. We still require 15 employees to put the product on the trays. We have started a dialogue with this customer, but also other potential customers, to find out what the needs and wishes are."
The automation of the product lines of snack cucumbers is a reaction to current day circumstances. "It is becoming increasingly difficult to find employees. Moreover, the snack cucumber requires a more intensive cultivation in which hygiene plays a central role."
The production line consists of several steps. First, the input is singularized. "This is important, because we want to have a better look at the products and want to achieve a certain capacity. Particularly with regard to snack cucumbers the numbers with regard to kilos are increasingly important"
Four different types of packaging
The trays are placed on the different conveyor belts from above. "This model uses four different sizes of packaging, but this can be altered at the customer's wishes. We have made use of vacuum denesters because the edges of the trays used by our customer are not always the same, so we have opted for vacuum instead of a screw.
Classification and orientation
The conveyor belt transports the cucumbers one by one past the 3DVision system installed by Belltech. The cucumbers are scanned by two cameras in combination with laser technology.
This system not only selects on length, thickness and curve, but also determines the location of every single cucumber and transmits that information to the six robots which place the cucumbers in uniform sets on the trays.
With the data Vision gathers the harvest can be mapped exactly. Ron van Dooren, Beltech technical advisor: "you can exactly see how many cucumbers turn out unfit for packaging on trays and you can adjust your cultivation accordingly."
It goes very fast. "The deltapicker can process up to one piece per second. This model has six, which means that this set up can process up to six cucumbers per second.". The tray band is placed at an angle so the cucumbers cannot roll. The deltapicker was developed by Abi. "It has an operating width up to 1600 mm, which is the maximum of this type, and this enables the robot to operate on the entire width of the conveyor belts.".
The cucumbers are being picked up by a gripper with multiple vacuum nozzles which are operated individually. Hans: "the gripper is product friendly. Normally the cucumber is attached to the gripper for hardly a second. We have tested the system by leaving a cucumber attached for three minutes, and we concluded there was no damage at all."
Hans: "The gripper's head is easy to change, and no pipes have to be disconnected. A single operation disconnects it. This minimizes the delay in the production process, and the same applies to the nozzles."
The set up that is shown will be attached to the current packaging lines of the customer, thereby automating the entire sorting and packaging line. According to Hans the machine can be used for more applications. "This enables us to serve various product groups."