Developed by California State University professor Gour Choudhury, the new processing system uses air to blast peel off fruit and vegetables. A specialist in food processing systems, Choudhury estimates that the technology could cut fruit and vegetable companies’ water use by up to 80 per cent, saving tens of thousands of euros each year.
Choudhury told FoodProductionDaily.com: “We did a commercial prototype run last year, and it worked very well. We are doing a full-scale commercial run this year.”
Waste water discharge
According to the patent application filed by Choudhury with the US Patent and Trademark Office: “Using air to remove the loosened peel instead of the conventional use of water significantly reduces the freshwater requirements and substantially reduces the quantity of wastewater discharge with very low concentration of contaminants.”
The technology focuses on the initial use of caustic fluid and/or steam to weaken the connection between the peel and the flesh of the produce. “Once the peel has been sufficiently loosened from the flesh, forced air may be applied to the surface of the produce to remove the loosened peel and any residual caustic fluid,” according to the application.
Following processing, the fruit and vegetable peels, caustic fluid, and water are collected and separated. The peels are then neutralized and fed to livestock, used as fertiliser, or used for pectin production. The caustic fluid and residual water can be recycled.
Conventional processing involves slicing fruit in half, removing pits and washing the produce in a lye solution that loosens the skin. The skin is then removed by water blasting as the fruit is carried along a conveyor belt.
Under development for three years, the new technology promises to offer an environmentally and accountant-friendly peeling solution for processors of peaches, tomatoes and other soft fruit.
Cost of the equipment is estimated at $300,000 to $500,000.
California State University has dedicated a team to commercialise the technology which is now looking for industry partners.
Ed Yates, president of the Sacramento-based California League of Food Processors told local news provider Freshno Bee: "Anything that uses less water, energy and chemicals will help keep us compete against the rest of the world."