From the fresh-cut perspective, Gary Rogers, sales manager for the Seven Chefs division of Nichimo International Inc., Bellevue, Wash., says reduced cost is a driving factor for the development of new equipment.

“People want to reduce labor but still provide quality cuts to customers,” Rogers said.

Machines are being developed to offer higher-precision cutting capabilities. New models are able to handle slices and products that typically had to be cut by hand.

“Generally, my machines go to fill a hand-cutting need for larger processors,” Rogers said.

That means the machines are able to take over tasks that were previously done by people, but that isn’t to say that companies will be reducing the number of employees.

Instead, Rogers has observed companies using the machine to increase their capacity for additional products.

“A company in Las Vegas had many employees cutting by hand and they were able to get rid of cutters for those simple items and train them for the more difficult fruits and increase fruit capacity for fruits such as pineapples,” Rogers said.

Rogers also has observed larger fresh-cut produce sections in stores.

“People aren’t eating out as frequently, but they still need quick food preparation. They’re willing to pay a little more for the convenience if they aren’t going out to eat,” he said.

However, the need for more convenience in produce also applies to restaurants.

“Chefs want a more complete prepping, too. The time per dish and prep work goes down when they use vegetables that are pre-sliced,” Rogers said.

Last year, the company introduced an onion peeling machine.

Other needs include the desire to have safer machines rated for foodservice.

“We’re going to continue to strive for higher levels of safety,” Rogers said. “There are different types of rating systems, and they go in levels.”

To meet higher safety ratings, companies are beginning to seek more specific characteristics in machines.

“A customer in Maryland wants the machines to be rated higher so they need the plastic handles to be either stainless steel, enamel coated or metal-infused plastic. That’s so, just in case, if a tiny sliver or piece of it gets into the product, metal detectors can sense it for removal,” Rogers said.

The ability for machines to be able to be broken down and completely cleaned is also a new trend.

Nichimo Seven Chefs’s new ECM-200 slicer follows this trend. It’s able to be taken apart for cleaning in less than three minutes.

“We’re getting quicker disassembly and more complete disassembly for machine wash down. Not everyone is doing that, but we are really focusing on that,” Rogers said.

West Sacramento, Calif.-based Odenberg Inc., predicts more advances in food safety machines.

Future advances will likely relate to the detection of internal attributes, defects and textures, as well as pathogens and microtoxins, according to Ashley Hunter, president, and Sean Slevin, marketing and business development manager.

Providing access to real-time data for machine operators during processing also will optimize the end product’s safety and quality and as contribute to greater yields and lower costs.

Hunter and Slevin say the internal and external attribute of fresh produce — specifically texture, taste and defects — are being requested more often.

The two men agree with Rogers of Nichimo Seven Chefs that the reduction in manual labor is an important aspect to consider when developing machines for produce.

This reduction in labor costs will help ensure a lower cost but maintain a higher quality and availability, according to Hunter and Slevin.