Fresh-cut citrus option studied

08/06/2004 12:00:00 AM
Bob Mcclure

(Aug. 6) LAKE ALFRED, Fla. — Fresh-cut citrus may be on grocery store shelves despite a recent well-publicized setback.

Citrus processors are investigating new technology manufactured by ABL Costruzioni Meccaniche, Modena, Italy, that offers solutions to problems that past machinery was unable to solve.

ABL’s OP30 system peels citrus and cuts the product into a variety of sizes. Unlike other technology that was experimented with recently, the Italian machinery does not use enzyme treatment to soften the skin of the fruit and features an electronic peeling head that adjusts to the variety of fruit being processed.

The OP30, which was introduced in the U.S.at the International Fresh-cut Produce Association show in April 2003, is designed for use with oranges, grapefruit, kiwifruit and mangoes.

It takes up a small amount of space, peels 30 fruits per minute and has a capacity of 1,200 to 1,300 pounds per hour, according to ABL. The OP30 measures 8 feet long, 6 feet wide and 7 feet, 6 inches in height.

The system was on display recently at the Florida Department of Citrus/University of Florida Experiment Station, Lake Alfred, and was greeted with a warm reception from industry officials.

FRESH-CUT VALIDITY

“It’s a valuable piece of equipment and can supply the niche market for citrus and other markets,” said Mike Harrell, president of Florida Citrus Producers, St. Petersburg, “It’s something fairly large companies with a national presence could buy, and it will give validity to fresh-cut products as well as citrus in general.”

Among the heavy hitters interested in the technology is Del Monte Fresh Produce Inc., Coral Gables, which recently terminated a deal using machinery purchased by the Florida Department of Citrus.

“We’ve looked at (the OP30), and it does appear to be something worth considering,” said John Loughridge, vice president of marketing for Del Monte. “It’s got some applications.”

Floyd Henson, senior automation specialist for the department of citrus, said the equipment received high marks from everyone who saw it in operation.

“For a lot of companies, it’s not a question of whether they will buy it but when, because they already have the market,” Henson said.

The estimated cost of $150,000 is offset by savings in manpower hours, said Luca Ascari of ABL.

Ascari said the OP30 is a proven product in Spain, France and Italy, where it performs the work of 10 to 12 people.


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