KANSAS CITY - COVID has made it more important than ever to enforce the highest standards of food safety in retail grocery stores. Equipment is no exception, and suppliers are stepping up their games to ensure those standards are met.

Troy, Ohio-based Hobart Food Equipment Group makes it a priority to manufacture food prep equipment that not only provides excellent food prep performance, but also supports food safety initiatives, said Megan Pettit, the company’s food machines marketing specialist.

“We recognize that retail grocery stores, particularly the delis where our slicers are used, need equipment that is easy to clean to minimize the presence of foodborne bacteria that could pose safety risks,” Pettit said. “Our intention is to design equipment our customers can depend on to meet their food safety goals.”

Hobart HS slicers feature a removable blade and components that allow operators to easily disengage parts to more thoroughly clean and sanitize them. The slicers include a removable blade technology with a tool that completely encases the knife during removal to simplify cleaning. They also feature a removable top cover that can be taken off and placed in a dishwasher or sink, as well as removable ring guard covers and a removable feed grip arm.

The slicers also boast Hobart’s exclusive tilting carriage system that allows for easy, mid-day cleaning. And, Pettit said, it’s removable for complete cleaning and sanitation. Hobart has also designed its slicers with a sanitary anodized aluminum base that is easy to clean, with limited crevices or bolt holes where food could lodge and cause bacteria to grow.

“Our removable blade and component technology is tried and true, so we’ve chosen to continue incorporating it into our new products, including the HS6-1PS and HS7-1PS heavy-duty, portion scale slicers,” Pettit said. “Food safety has always been a priority to Hobart customers, and we’ve worked hard to design and manufacture food prep equipment that makes it easier for them to ensure their success.”

Simple, toolless, easy

It’s the aim of Delta, British Columbia-based Unifiller Systems Inc. to be ahead of the market on many levels, one of the most important of which is food safety, said Sonia Bal, the company’s marketing director.

“Unifiller machines are sold to customers all over the world, so we strive to meet or beat the strictest standards set globally,” she said. “Anytime you replace human effort with machine effort, you’re reducing the number of times food is handled or exposed to human contamination.”

Machines — like Unifiller’s — that have the fewest parts needed to maintain and replace, combined with toolless design, also means that the equipment is user-friendly and easier to set up, dismantle and clean, Bal said. That also makes the learning and training process that much simpler. Even entry level staff, she said, can be easily trained to ensure proper cleaning protocol for greater food safety.

To ensure the highest food safety standards, Unifiller builds all of its machines with stainless steel, which is much easier to clean. In addition, Bal said, they’re intentionally built with a simple design.

“Machines designed with the minimal number of parts necessary require less cleaning, which ultimately translates to a smaller risk of cross-contamination,” she said. “Other food safety features include safety valves, larger openings for larger allowance, sloped covers, and durable pneumatic parts.”

Bal said Unifiller’s food safety innovations over the years have included:

· Customer surveying for new food safety needs

· Compliance checklist with government requirements

· Prelaunch research via talking to our customers and understanding their needs

· Rigorous in-house testing before equipment is launched

COVID has only emphasized further the need for less human effort in producing food, Bal said. The call for social distancing, more PPE requirements, and the simple realization that shutdowns/lockdowns will be ongoing, means manufacturers are more open to considering automation, so that businesses rely less on labor and more on equipment.

“This will be instrumental to business continuity,” Bal said. “COVID-19 has also demonstrated that businesses are heavily impacted when staff are difficult to retain due to health and safety concerns. The current pandemic has been eye-opening. Automating what was previously done by hand can simplify a business’ daily operations.”