Food safety drives sandwich automation

by Andy Nelson
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Grote sandwich production
The 1000i series is Unifiller's top sandwich production product.

KANSAS CITY — Many sandwiches sold in grocery store delis are still assembled by hand. But with labor costs and food safety concerns becoming more top of mind, the decision to switch to automated production makes more and more sense, equipment industry leaders say. 

The 1000i series single piston depositor line is food portioning equipment specialist Unifiller Systems Inc.’s top product when it comes to sandwich production, said Andy Sigrist, senior product manager. Most of Delta, B.C.-based Unifiller’s sandwich customers are regional or global commissaries providing product to grocery and convenience stores, airports and other end-users, he said.

The 1000i depositors, which may be used alone or over a conveyor system, spread, spray or print accurate portions of condiments and sandwich fillings. Fillings like egg salad, tuna salad, seafood salad and chicken salad and spreads like peanut butter and Nutella are among the common applications, Mr. Sigrist said. Of course, “sandwiches” in this context also means burgers, wraps and breakfast sandwiches, and the 1000i line also was designed with those products in mind — depositing dressings, beans, spreadable cheese and other toppings are among its other capabilities.

With the addition of simple spread or spray attachments, the 1000i depositors can apply ketchup, mayonnaise, butter, relish and other condiments to a variety of bread products, Mr. Sigrist said. In addition, transfer pumps may be used to fill depositor hoppers for continuous production, if needed, and conveyors may be added to fully automate production, with sensors triggering deposits at any point along the production line.

Grote sandwich equipment
Grote Company equipment is being used increasingly for sandwiches bound for grocery stores.

The majority of the sandwich equipment sold by Columbus, Ohio-based Grote Co. in North America is used by companies that are making sandwiches for c-stores and coffee houses, but sandwich production for grocery stores is on the rise among both private label manufacturers and grocery stores themselves, said Jon Hissrich, a Grote application specialist.

Grote’s sandwich assembly lines typically turn out 30 to 55 sandwiches per minute per lane, Mr. Hissrich said. What helps separate Grote from its competitors, he said, is an ability to address the specific needs of sandwich manufacturers. Grote’s modular systems, for example, can include various combinations of conveyors, bread feeders, sandwich and wrap cutters, depositors and slicers. All are designed with flexibility in mind.

“Quick changeovers are required for efficient production of multiple s.k.u.’s throughout the day,” Mr. Hissrich said. “Each system is designed for the customer’s particular application and requirements.”

In addition, he said Grote’s stainless steel construction allows for complete wash down capability, unlike the bakery-oriented equipment that some manufacturers use. And the company’s conveyor systems are designed to work with its Clean in Place (CIP) systems, which provide continuous washing, sanitizing and drying of the production belt.  

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