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Cutting out waste to increase yields

14 June 2021

Emerson Jiménez Barajas explains the link between poor cutting solutions and increased product waste. 

Agriculture and food processing are two of the main sources of mass loss of food raw materials which contribute to production waste. 

As the need for sustainable production grows, the food industry must look for solutions to increase raw materials yield. Raw materials loss is  also costly, so reducing it makes good business sense too. The size reduction production stage of food processing has a big role to play here, by efficiently lowering of mass losses during this process and thereby increasing yields. 

There are two different phenomena which could have an impact on yield during the cutting process. First of all, cutting breaks cell walls, releasing content from inside the cells. This valuable content – comprising different liquids and compounds – can be lost during the cutting process. Typically, the more cells are damaged, the greater the loss, so keeping cell damage to a minimum is key to improving yield. For example, in the french-fries industry, the potatoes cut into strips will suffer from cell tissue injury, resulting in losses between 2 and 12%, depending on factors such as cutting velocity, size, knife assembly and fouling, and wearing in the knives. Therefore, any change in the cutting process will have an impact in the overall yield. 

Staying sharp for longer
One cutting improvement achieved by FAM and its sister company, Stumabo, is the development of knives which keep their sharpness longer, meaning that more products will be cut by sharp knives, helping to reduce cell damage.

The second phenomenon refers to the scrap or off-cut. Generally speaking, these smaller pieces do not meet quality requirements. Cutting technologies can help avoid off-cuts, which decrease yield. FAM, for example, has developed a technology that keeps the food product stable during the cutting process, being dual stage impeller for the centrifugal slicers. The benefit of this impeller is that, while the food product is being cut. If the product is hit while being cut, this will create off-cuts.

Once the product has been cut, it follows a post-treatment trajectory during which it will be conditioned to the desired characteristics. For example, it can be dried, frozen, fried or simply washed. Some of these post-treatment processes require a lot of energy and having a good cutting quality helps reduce the energy requirements. For example, drying vegetables requires more energy when there are a lot of offcuts in the product, as they block the airflow passage. In extreme cases this can result in a product that does not comply with the humidity requirements and may potentially end up with product being rejected.

Reducing the number of bad cuts also helps keep the equipment clean and reduces the time needed for cleaning or maintenance. The frying process required for crisps or fries, for example can result in scrapped product  and also in the degradation of oil quality, resulting in reduced yield and more product waste.
The effects of a bad cut quality can sometimes been seen days after production. During the cutting process, the contents of the cells are released, including enzymes. Some of these enzymes have a deterioration effect on the food product. The more enzymes that are released, the faster the product will deteriorate. Therefore, it is necessary to look for new cutting technologies that fully or partially eliminate the above-mentioned issues.

Emerson Jiménez Barajas is applications director at FAM.

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