When manual labour has the upper hand

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

UK food processors need manual as well as automated processes to deliver the high quality that customers demand, according to Zeina Foods' boss Saafa Ali.

Zeina Foods processes large quantities of pistachio nuts for manufacturers that use them as an ingredient in other products. Ali said processing pistachios raised tough quality issues, as they were naturally mottled in colour, which made detecting and removing shell pieces automatically hard.

"One piece of shell can easily generate a complaint or injury such as someone damaging their tooth," ​said Ali, and Zeina Foods had found manual inspection to be the best quality safeguard.

Some of the most stringent specifications for pistachio shell parts per tonne were for Californian pistachio ice cream, he said. "The Californian ice cream standard was 150 pieces per tonne five years ago. It's now commonly 20 pieces, but we have brought it down to five."

To achieve this, Zeina had had to impose hand-sorting procedures, said Ali. "We have a pre-sorting line before roasting for product for high-specification customers. From the line, we can inspect the nuts on a sorting table if need be.

"The human eye is best our latest invention, the sorting table, is going back to basics."

The company installed the table nine months ago.

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