Keep the Blades Sharp
Sharp blades are the key to having evenly sliced meats and cheeses. Blades that have become dull can make the meat seem somewhat minced or rough because the dull blades don’t cut through the meat in the same way as sharp blades. The shredding that can occur with dull blades won’t produce the quality of deli cuts that your customers expect from your company.
It is imperative that you use proper procedures when you are working on your Berkel slicer. Your owner’s manual will provide important information on how to safely maintain your slicer.
For example, when the blade is being changed, sharpened, or used, the person who is operating the unit should wear cut-resistant gloves. This helps keep the user safe from injury and also helps you keep in compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s regulations that help ensure a safe workplace.
Double Check the Settings
Consistency is the key when you are making sandwiches and other dishes. Making sure that settings on the Berkel slicer are properly set can help ensure that the consistency remains. Even slight differences in the thickness of a cut can significantly alter the delicate balance of flavors that you have created in a dish.
It is a good idea to check the thickness setting each time you start the machine, even if the meat or cheese you are cutting is the same as the previous job. You should also check the first cut that comes off the meat or cheese when you first start a job. Once you verify that the first cut is what you need, you can move forward with the remaining slices.
Practice Proper Food Safety
Proper food safety practices must be followed each time you use the Berkel slicer. Failing to follow proper safety practices can cause people who consume the meats and cheeses that you slice to become ill. In fact, deli slicing equipment that isn’t properly cleaned and sanitized is one cause of food-borne illnesses that the United States Food and Drug Administration recognizes as a problem.
One way you can ensure that proper food safety practices are being used is to have the slicers marked to let employees know what to use the slicer for. If possible, don’t use the same slicer for cooked meats and raw meats. Even if you are cleaning the slicer after each use, there is still a chance of cross- contamination.
Clean the Unit After Each Use
Now that you are aware that you must practice safe food handling procedures, you probably realize how important it is to keep the Berkel slicer clean. It isn’t enough to simply wipe the unit down. Instead, it must be cleaned to ensure that areas that might accumulate food soil are clean. There are some specific areas that you must double check when you clean your Berkel slicer.
The slicer handle, ring guard mount, and blade guard are three areas of slicers that the FDA warns should be checked for food soil. When you check these parts of the slicer, make sure that you look for loose, cracked, or damaged areas since food soil and debris can be harbored there.
Besides cleaning the slicer after each use, the FDA recommends that slicers be sanitized and cleaned every four hours. This helps to remove pathogens that can lead to outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. Each Berkel slicer has a manual that details how you should clean and sanitize the unit. Keeping that manual near the work station can make it easier for the person who is doing the job to properly complete the procedure.
Have Spare Parts at the Ready
There are some instances in which you will need to replace a component of the slicer. Having some of the most common parts at the ready can help you to minimize the downtime that you will experience if you have to wait on parts to be delivered. Keeping a spare set of gaskets, blades, and guards at a minimum can help keep your slicer in business.
If you do have anything on your slicer that needs to be replaced, make sure that you follow the proper OSHA procedures for working with meat slicers. This includes either using the tag in/tag out method for the equipment or ensuring that the person doing the repair is the only person who can access the plug and power source.
Prepare for High Volume
If your company does a high volume of business, you should make sure that you are prepared for that volume. This might mean that you need to invest in more than one slicer. Having more than one slicer can also help you to avoid cross-contamination. Additionally, multiple slicers enable your business can stay up and running if something happens and you need to repair one slicer, because you will still have the other slicer or slicers that can slice meats and cheeses.
Choosing which slicer to use in your home or professional kitchen can easily become a confusing task, given the plethora of options now on the market. Berkel stands apart as one of the most trusted names in the industry. When you buy a Berkel slicer, you can be sure you are getting a high-quality product.
Yet, there are numerous Berkel slicers, and regardless of brand, there are a number of important factors to take into consideration when deciding which slicer is right for you.
Below, we look at five important areas of consideration when getting ready to buy a new professional-grade slicer:
1. Horsepower and “Duty Level”
One major consideration in selecting your slicer is how much, how often and what kinds of food products you intend to slice. For example, an entry level or light-duty model might be sufficient for occasionally slicing meats only, but daily use and slicing cheeses would require a heavy-duty or at least a medium-duty model.
Using a lower duty model for heavy-duty use will shorten the slicer’s lifespan and could cause it to burn out.
Light-duty slicers may need only 1/4 hp and are best used not more than an hour or two per day with deli meats only. They are often more compact and always more affordable than other models, but they will not work well slicing cheese or vegetables.
Medium-duty slicers will generally have 1/3 hp. They can slice both meats and (occasionally) cheeses and can be safely used for two to three hours per day. They will also typically have larger blades than light-duty models, allowing larger slices and quicker slicing time.
Heavy-duty slicers will have 1/2 hp or more and can slice all manner of food products, including frozen foods. They can be used four to six hours daily or even all day long with the best models. They have the smoothest, most precise operation and the best safety and cleaning features available.
2. Manual or Automatic?
A second major choice is whether to invest in an automatic or manually operated machine. Automatic models use a motor to move the feed tray instead of requiring a worker to do this task by hand. Automatic models can, however, also be operated manually when desired.
Those who will be slicing large amounts of food all at once or those who will be slicing all day long should probably purchase an automatic slicing machine. It will free up staff to do other things and minimize safety risks, since no one is constantly handling the machine. There will normally be different speed settings as well, allowing you to decide how many slices per minute to produce.
For smaller operations, however, a manual slicer can save space on the counter top and in the company budget.
3. Performance Features
Investing in a higher-end slicer will provide you with more and better performance features. Here are some of the common features to look for:
- An angled, easy-feed product table that allows meats to simply slide toward the blade without usually needing to be pushed.
- An over-sized product table that can accommodate food products over the standard 12-inch length.
- A 12- to 14-inch diameter cutting blade, which is often on higher-end models. A 9- to 10-inch blade is usually used on light-duty models.
- A gear-driven blade, which tends to be more durable than a belt-driven blade. However, gear-driven blades will cost more to repair if they do ever have a problem.
- A specialty slicer, like the Berkel 330M Prosciutto slicer, for making “wafer thin” slices on your gourmet deli meats.
4. Easy Cleaning
Saving time on routine cleanings is important in busy delis and bistros, which makes it worthwhile to buy a slicer with features that make it easy to clean, such as the following:
- Product table tilts upwards for easier wiping down and washing off.
- Built-in blade sharpener is removable for easy cleaning.
- Either the ring guard is removable or the whole blade. Either way, this makes it easy to clean the machine.
- Pusher and knife guard are also removable.
- Quick, easy disassembly without any need for specialized tools.
- Stainless steel or anodized aluminum build makes for easy maintenance.
- Kickstand leg allows you to prop up the slicer so you can easily clean beneath it (without relocating it).
- NSF certification, which indicates the machine has fewer seams and is thus easier to clean.
5. Safety Features
Higher-end models will incorporate a number of special safety enhancements, which is a major concern when dealing with a sharp-bladed tool. Here are a few of the most common safety features to look for:
- Knife guard: the guard should cover as much of the blade as possible to minimize cutting hazards.
- Gauge plate interlock: A gauge plate interlock will allow you to tilt the product tray for an easy feed and easy cleaning. It will also put an extra barrier between the blade and one’s fingers.
- No-volt release: This mechanism disallows the slicer to start up again after being unplugged or having the power interrupted for a time, until the power button has been pressed.
Berkel slicers are immensely popular at delis, sandwich chains, bakeries, bistros and other restaurants. They are also much loved in many home kitchens. Knowing which Berkel slicer will best fit your needs will maximize your investment and result in years of efficient meat, bread and cheese slicing.
Why Use a Vacuum Packaging Machine?
A vacuum sealer, or vacuum packaging machine, is used to remove all or nearly all of the air/oxygen in a plastic bag in which food items are placed for storage. The machine will then heat-seal the open end of the bag to ensure no air can reenter. The grade of plastic used in the bag also helps prevent air molecules from getting inside and speeding up food spoilage.
Vacuum sealers are often used with meats, fish, cheeses, vegetables, and fruits, and they can also be used on flour, cereal, nuts, coffee, potato chips, and most other food products.
Some of the most important benefits of using a vacuum packaging machine include:
- The shelf life of food is greatly extended when it is vacuum-sealed. Many foods will last three to five times longer, while retaining freshness and full flavor/aroma.
- Freezer burn is prevented because, with no air in the bag, no evaporation or drying-out can take place.
- Leakage and contents loss is prevented by the tight seal. Plastic wrap and zipper bags simply cannot compete in this regard. And tight sealing will keep insects out as surely as it will keep food in.
- Longer food storage times. Other food storage methods only keep foods fresh for a few days, but vacuum-sealing can keep food fresh for months.
- Shrink film can be used to vacuum-seal potato chips and other delicate foods without crushing them. And shrink film also works well with non-food items such as documents, clothing, and other valuables.
- Sous vide cooking is enabled by vacuum sealing, making a vacuum sealer an excellent “companion” for sous vide equipment.
- Meats/fish can be marinaded faster with vacuum-sealing than by overnight refrigeration, and the process forces marinades deeper into the food for delicious results.
Types of Vacuum Sealers
There are several different types of vacuum sealers to consider purchasing, each type being ideal for specific uses and situations.
The first type of vacuum sealer we will look at is the chamber vacuum sealer. Chamber sealers have you place the food to be sealed in a fully enclosed chamber, close the lid, and wait for the bag to be automatically sealed. In favor of chamber-type sealers, they are the fastest of all vacuum sealers, often double-seal the bag for added security, and are great for heavy duty and high-volume use. Additionally, they can “wet seal” soups and other liquids. They are, however, more expensive than other options, heavy, and take up a lot of space.
“External” or “manual” vacuum sealers have no chamber and must be maneuvered by hand. There are two types we will note: clamp sealers and nozzle sealers.
Clamp sealers require specially designed bags with built-in air channels. A clamp on the end of the sealer covers the open side of the bag, connects to the air channel, and removes all the oxygen. These models are more low-duty (best used once a week/month), but they are relatively affordable and work effectively.
Nozzle sealers use a retractable nozzle or “snorkel” that is inserted into the bag to remove the air. They are best for home or light commercial use. Because no chamber or need for a specially designed bag limits the size/shape of the object to be sealed, you get greater versatility. However, it takes longer for seals to cool, and seams are not as evenly sealed as with chamber sealers.
How to Decide on Which Vacuum Sealer to Buy
While some hints were already given above on how to determine which type of vacuum sealer is best for your purposes, we list here some of the main factors you will want to take into consideration:
- Speed and power. Many of the larger, chamber machines are the most efficient. But if you need a manual sealer or can’t afford a chamber model, investigate the sealing speed and whether the machine is designated for “heavy” or “light” duty usage.
- Size and weight of the machine. If you have limited counter space or need to move the machine daily, avoid a large, bulky machine.
- Bag types vary in thickness, size, shape, material, and other respects. Make sure the machine you choose is compatible with the bag-type you need.
- Vertical or horizontal orientation. Vertical (upright) chamber sealers are best for sealing liquids, and some models can even seal canning jars. “Flat vac” chamber sealers have adjustable widths, making them best for multi-sized solid food sealing.
- Other factors include multi-speed functions, partial air-removal ability, dishwasher safe, automatic overflow catching, and on-sealer bag-roll storage.
Vacuum sealing food has many benefits that may have already persuaded you to invest in a vacuum sealer, but the next step is to evaluate which type of vacuum sealer best fits your needs.
Berkel Sales & Services produces commercial vacuum sealers of the highest caliber, and has a decades-long reputation as a top provider of quality equipment to the food service industry. To learn more about their vacuum packaging machines, you can call Berkel at 800-814-2028 or click on the “Contact Us” tab on their website to submit a request form.