Getting to the root of food safety in the potato industry

August 1, 2019

From sticks and stones to plastic bottles and golf balls, potato farmers encounter an ever-increasing spectrum of hazardous foreign material in their fields making effective sorting a critical element of the processing line.

 Photo source: TOMRA

While large foreign objects such as rodents, insects, stones, soil, wood and plastic might be easier to spot, public safety relies on food being free from microscopic contaminants and transparent items like glass that are not usually visible to the human eye.


Undetected foreign material such as glass not only carries a potentially fatal risk to the end consumer; it triggers a breakdown in trust which can have an irreparable impact on a brand’s reputation - something which, in the digital age, has become increasingly difficult to repair. 

Product recalls: Something no business can afford 

Product recalls set in motion a domino effect that negatively impacts every single stage of the food supply chain. They are costly in terms of business, brand and the environment – unnecessary stoppages in production result in increased energy consumption while recalled product has nowhere to go further contributing to waste in landfills.

When things go wrong, a product recall can be truly devastating for a potato manufacturer in terms of financial loss and status meaning that automated sorting is not just good for business, it’s vital. 

Manual sorting: Ineffective and unavailable 

While foreign materials pose a significant threat to the quality and safety of a product, manual labour also opens up the potential for human error which can result in other objects making their way into the food stream.


Within the context of food safety, the limitations of manual sorting are clear however sociological factors such as rural depopulation and an increasingly educated workforce mean that farmers no longer have the same access to labour as they once did. 

As the demand for food continues to rise in line with a growing global population, optical sorting is no longer seen as ‘optional’ but, rather, as the industry benchmark for maintaining operational efficiency, product quality and food safety. 

Automation: Improving productivity, quality and value 

The benefits of having efficient sorting and quality analysis systems in place are far-reaching; not only as a means of ensuring food safety and preventing product recalls further down the line, but also as a way of preventing machine damage, reducing product waste and minimising production costs.


New potato sorting systems such as that produced by agritech innovation company TOMRA can detect and reject defects based on biological characteristics, shape and size, structure, colour and density, while recovery sorting ensures no good product goes to waste.


Automation not only allows potato processors to enhance food safety, create a better yield and boost productivity – it equips them with the competitive edge needed to out-perform competitors in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. 

As global concerns over yield, food security and sustainability grow, an effective sort will ensure the minimum amount of food is wasted whilst delivering a safe, high-quality final product to customers.

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