BEATING the clock on potato shelf-life is the key behind a major processing plant investment by Thomas Foods International.
The company, which one of Australia's largest food processors, has installed a world-first Spectrim potato grading line as part of major enhancements to its Penfield Gardens-based production facility.
The installation features a 12 lane Compac sorter with Spectrim grading technology, advanced packing equipment, and automated pallet weighing, packing and wrapping processes.
Spectrim, with nine cameras on each of the 12 lanes, ensures 100 per cent inspection of each potato using multiple colour and infrared wavelengths.
While the exact cost wasn't given, Thomas Foods International Fresh Produce chief executive officer, Rod Knight, said it was a "multi-million dollar" bit of gear.
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The Compac potato sorting and grading technology ensures a new level of accuracy and consistency for supermarket retailers and Thomas Foods' export partners.
"The fully-automated Compac sorting machine offers a maximum production capacity of 45 tonnes per hour and a streamlined sorting and packaging timeframe can see delivery to SA-based retail distribution centres on the very same day they are processed," Mr Knight said.
"The clock is always ticking when it comes to bringing fresh food to market and offering much faster but more accurate processing allows us to sort, pack and deliver potatoes to Victoria and NSW overnight and as quick as two days to Queensland.
"More than 200 images of every potato are taken by Spectrim sensors and cameras, while superior lighting ensures even illumination power and consistency to better support the high-tech grading process.
"That means consumers can enjoy fresher potatoes that have been assessed using technology that pays an appropriate level of respect to the ongoing efforts of farmers who have worked hard to grow amazing local-produce for people to enjoy."
The high-tech grading technology sees each potato scanned for even minor damage, such as early rots or bruises, that has been difficult for the industry to detect using previous technologies or even the naked eye.
The camera technology makes a grade allocation based on the results so consumers can have confidence in the quality choices they make when shopping.
"More than 200 images of every potato are taken by Spectrim sensors and cameras, while superior lighting ensures even illumination power and consistency to better support the high-tech grading process," Mr Knight said.
"Cleanliness is also taken to a new level by having processing lines fitted with premium easy-to-clean stainless-steel features to maintain the very highest standards of hygiene."
"The increased grading accuracy also has benefits for our supply chain by enabling us to expand our previous quality control reporting.
"This information can then be used to provide detailed defect and yield information to assist farm planning and agronomy."
Thomas Foods International Fresh Produce processes more than 60,000 tonnes of potatoes per year, which are then provided to Coles, Woolworths and other major distribution centres across Australia, along with exporting to the world.