Commissaries and central kitchens routinely need a large amount of potatoes and other vegetables ready for chopping, cooking, packaging and more. To help in labor savings and cost, facilities can turn to peeling equipment to take care of perhaps the most troublesome portion of the process.

Today’s peelers not only process large amounts of vegetables, but they do so while minimizing waste and showcasing flexibility.

“Our role is to help facilities reduce the volume of vegetables the have to bring into the play to get the high-value, high-quality and safe food that can be taken to the supermarket,” says Eamon Cullen, market unit manager for Tomra, headquartered in Norway.


Unexpected impact

Cullen says his company’s Eco Steam Peelers have handled changes in produce from an unexpected source.

“Climate change is impacting the growing conditions of the vegetables,” he says. “The quality of the vegetables coming from the ground is varying quite significantly. “

In some cases, he says, growing conditions are pristine — sufficient rain during the season without temperatures that rise too much.

“Then you might have very large vegetables,” Cullen says. “Then you have to be able to process big pieces, like two-pound potatoes.”

The other side comes when growing conditions are poor and the size variation is small.

“There is a big diversity in the raw materials that are coming from the ground,” he says. “Processors are trying to achieve a higher volume of vegetable, but if the weather changes significantly, they’re just unable to do that.”

Cullen says another factor impacts the product that producers bring into their facilities for processing.

“The globalization of the industry has a real big impact in the diversity of the vegetable that you have to work with,” he says. “That means we have to adapt technology, we have to change the process conditions, we have to look at what we can do. It’s all part of the overall science of the equipment of what we use.”

Tomra’s peelers utilize steam technology to quickly and efficiently remove the outer layer of vegetables and fruits. Each vegetable consists of about 20% solid matter with the other 80% being water, Cullen says. The later of water directly below the skin is heated by the steam and then expands quickly and is separated from the flesh.

Not only does this happen quickly, it happens in an efficient manner, according to Cullen.

“We keep the contours of the vegetable. If you think of your regular russet potato or a carrot, it has different shapes and contours,” he says. “Steam peeling allows you to separate the skin from the flesh underneath without leaving too much good flush underneath. We’re trying to reduce the level of loss that the processor would have form the vegetable.

“And when you’re looking at a machine that’s peeling in 3 to 4 seconds, you would typically have a loss of matter. We recover a high volume of good flesh for processing further down the line.”

Cullen says these steam peelers are typically used at large facilities that need to process a substantial amount of produce.

“The steam peeler gives them the ability to peel around 1,000 pieces in roughly 3 to 4 seconds. What it’s doing is supplying high-pressure steam to a special valve arrangement into one of our pressure vessels and it’s mixing the product uniformly,” he says. “The steam touches the surface of each of the thousand pieces and once you release that steam pressure, the skin just completely separates from the flesh underneath. It allows the processor to peel high volumes of potatoes or carrots or different vegetables very, very efficiently.”

Steam peelers are being used in new areas lately, Cullen says, such as pumpkins, squash, avocados and peaches.

“The consumption is increasing with those vegetables. What’s happening is they’re using steam peeling. And steam peeling works efficiently to separate the skin, but our equipment is constantly being challenged with bigger and bigger vegetables going into the peeler,” he says. “Large pumpkins and difficult items like avocados and peaches are driving a lot of processors to invest in new solutions.”


Other options

Not every facility needs to process 1,000 pieces in less than five seconds. Peelers like those manufactured by Sammic US, headquartered in Evanston, Illinois, can provide quick, efficient results using different methods.

“Our products are used in many different areas,” says Neal Pearlman, director of sales for Sammic US. “They’re used for companies doing fresh-cut potatoes. They’re used for fries. They’re also used at the commissary level for people peeling a ton of potatoes.”

Pearlman says one commissary customer goes through 2,000 pounds of potatoes a day, which are peeled and shredded and then sent to the retail store to make potato pancakes.

Sammic’s peelers — which range in capacity from 22 to 66 pounds — feature a highly resistant and long-lasting abrasive, according to the company. A motor spins, tumbling the potato or other vegetable against the abrasive compound that adheres to the sides. The tumbler flips the potatoes and peels them. The machines can process the batches in three to four minutes.

“The way it spins, and it’s got a ripple in it, it makes the potatoes tumble. We also have flanges in the unit itself that reincorporate the potatoes to promote uniform peeling,” Pearlman says. “We’re tumbling the potatoes so that they’re hitting the abrasive surface at different times and in different places so that it peels very quickly and without creating to exorbitant amounts of waste.”

The Sammic peelers also control waste by including a water inlet on the machine’s lid. It only injects water when the machine is operating, taking away the possibility of water waste. The water, and a spin cycle, washes the refuse down the drain.

Pearlman says Sammic sales its peelers in conjunction with its other equipment, like vacuum sealers.

“That creates an opportunity for a commissary to have sort of a one-stop shop to create programs,” he says. “Get the food clean, chopped and sent forward to the store.”