MORE FOOD ON THE FORK
Local company uses state-of-the-art approach to minimize waste.
WRITTEN BY COLIN GOULDING
PHOTOS COURTESY OF TOMRA SORTING SOLUTIONS
A TOMRA belt sorter sorts for optimal-quality peas that are free of foreign materials
While the sustainability-focused consumer may agonize over ousting the uneaten almonds at the bottom of the expired bag in a kitchen cabinet, TOMRA Sorting Solutions is working to minimize food waste well before it even arrives on the grocery store shelf.
For nearly 20 years, TOMRA has called West Sacramento its home. About four years ago, the company relocated to a purpose-built site on Embarcadero Drive in the northwest corner of the city. In its 60,000-square-foot facility, the innovators at TOMRA develop equipment and technology to reduce the amount of food mistakenly identified as unacceptable for sale and rejected during sensor-based sorting and processing. This means ultimately getting more food onto the fork with less waste along the way.
“Our sorters and peeling solutions try to optimize the resources coming from the field, minimizing waste and optimizing quality,” says Bjorn Thumas, business development director.
With the world’s population projected to increase by 30 percent over the next 40 years, global food resources are under more pressure than ever. Thumas explains that TOMRA’s goal is to work with clients to obtain more resources for their food products, use less, and reuse resources whenever possible. This means maximizing side streams, or the byproducts created while processing crops. This also means consulting with clients on effective placement of sorters in factories.
“Integrating our sorters in the correct positions of the [factory] line also can minimize cleaning water and materials, which is a direct contributor to sustainability,” Thumas says.
An operator controls a TOMRA Nimbus sorter for nuts
Home is where the harvest is
The TOMRA headquarters’ site, near the heart of California’s agricultural region, was not coincidental.
“By being located in the Sacramento area, TOMRA is able to utilize its state-of-the-art test, demo, and training center to quickly meet our customers’ needs. This allows us to react quickly to new applications, train machine operators, and increase our customers’ competitiveness,” says Mark Host, regional sales director for the Americas.
With so much time, energy, water, and labor going into producing valley-grown foodstuffs, more quality food becomes accessible to consumers, including those working with limited budgets. Reducing the amount of food erroneously rejected during processing keeps costs in check for consumers.
“Scarcity of food only increases cost,” Thumas says.
Mother Nature also can have a significant impact on both farmers and foodies; weather and accidents can damage crops, destroy valuable food, and drive up prices on the surviving crops. However, TOMRA can help recover crops that farmers previously may have written off as total losses.
“Our sorters have been able to salvage crops deemed lost by hail damage and still get products on the shelves, whereas growers would otherwise just leave the produce in the fields to perish,” Thumas says.
While consumers often are focused on getting food from their refrigerators to their plates, finding as many ways as possible to get more food into the fridge is critical as demand for high-quality, local food products grows.
“With more availability at better pricing, maintaining or even increasing quality standards hopefully will contribute to enhancing accessibility to [everyone],” Thumas says.
Colin Goulding is a cook and baker who has refused to go pro. When not working as an analyst at the University of California, Davis, he spends his free time cultivating musquée de Provence pumpkins and yuzus in the front yard of his home in West Sacramento.