Food Safety Case History: Keeping on Eye on the Cranberries
Optical sorter helps L&S Cranberry pack quality fruit with no foreign material.
By Food Processing Staff | 05/14/2012
L&S Cranberry (www.lscranberry.com), Saint-Lucien, Quebec, farms and packs an average of 8 million lbs. of fresh cranberries every year, primarily for Ocean Spray Cranberries. As a grower-owner of Ocean Spray (an agricultural cooperative), L&S Cranberry is particularly motivated to provide the highest quality product that is safe and free of foreign material to protect consumers as well as Ocean Spray's brand.
But being an agricultural product, cranberries can arrive with foreign material, some have defects and soft berries, called "poppers," can spoil rapidly and affect other berries in the bag. Those are the kinds of things that have to be removed. L&S formerly did that by hand.
L&S Cranberry packs 10,000 to 12,000 lbs. of fresh cranberries per hour during the season, from September to December. "It's hard to find people to work only a portion of the year. We usually have to start every year with new people," says Kevin Connolly, general manager.
So in 2008, L&S Cranberry installed Key Technology's (www.key.net) Optyx 6000 series sorter to inspect the fruit and automatically remove foreign material and defects. In 2011, L&S added RemoteMD, a real-time condition analysis tool for the sorter that helps maximize product quality and productivity.
"Before 2008, we shipped fresh cranberries in bulk from our farm in Quebec to an Ocean Spray packing plant in Massachusetts, which had Optyx sorters on the line," Connolly says. "When we grew big enough to justify having our own packing facility, the success of Optyx at Ocean Spray influenced our decision to install the same sorter here. As we grew, we went from packing one shift per day to two shifts per day, six days per week during the season. We added RemoteMD to allow the sorter to be monitored and accessed from anywhere. It's absolutely awesome."
RemoteMD takes the concept of remote monitoring and diagnostics, which has historically been reactive in nature, and made it proactive. With this capability enabled, Key Technology's RemoteMD technology continuously monitors L&S Cranberry's Optyx sorter through a secure portal, looking for conditions that may require corrective action. The system automatically alerts the customer and Key technicians of a condition change and, if circumstances warrant, Key can remotely log in and fix it.
"It gives us peace of mind, knowing that Key is monitoring our sorter and can see problems and provide support. It also gives me freedom because it allows me to connect and see what's going on from my office and from home, which is especially valuable during the night shift," notes Connolly. "We've used RemoteMD every day since it was installed, and every day it's worked perfectly. It helps us maximize our product quality and our productivity."
Every cranberry is sorted by Optyx using a combination of color cameras and laser technology. The color cameras inspect each object's size, shape and color, and the lasers detect differences in structural properties, enabling Optyx to identify and remove foreign material and defects.
"Optyx reduces our reliance on labor, and RemoteMD gives us the flexibility to not have to have the most fully trained person there at all times," said Connolly.
Through Key's PROliance protection plan that covers Optyx, L&S Cranberry has access to Key's online training program in addition to RemoteMD. "Last year, we took on the responsibility to train more people, including our maintenance staff," Connolly says.
This online training program offers an interactive, self-paced multimedia curriculum designed to improve the effectiveness and consistency of training. With modules that cover hardware, software and user interface topics, it helps L&S Cranberry operate its sorter at peak performance, which optimizes product quality and maximizes equipment uptime while reducing training costs.
"Key's online training program frees me up from having to train everybody myself. When employees are better trained, they lean on me less to step in and get involved in the operation," Connolly explains. "Having more people that know the sorter is a good thing. And we don't need to pay thousands of dollars to bring in technicians to do the training. This is especially valuable given our high turnover.
"We work hard to produce and pack the highest quality fresh cranberries. Given our short season, it's very important that we hit 100 percent accuracy from the moment we start up in September," Connolly concludes. "Optyx helps us achieve our high quality standards."