Finding the right equipment for your business

Locating and buying the correct food processing equipment for a new or expanding business is always one of the major constraints identified by studies of the small-scale industry

P rocessing equipment for many sectors can be very expensive and require a high level of technical support to operate successfully, but in this article Dave Harcourt describes a group of products that have less serious equipment demands, and can be made with easily available and affordable equipment over a range of capacities.

Identifying the opportunity.

Such new business can, however, not be established because the equipment is available; but must always be linked to a proven market and to the real expertise, desires and even dreams of the entrepreneur. One such example is a group of processed food products that can be produced from fruit and vegetables – which are mixed according to a recipe and often preserved only by the combined effect of acids and sugar – including jams, sauces, chutneys, pickles and ketchups which can be produced safely at levels from the home kitchen to the factory. These products are easy and affordable to make and are mostly inherently safe, which makes their production according to quality and especially food safety standards, easier.

Process principles

The process can be generally defined as:

• Sort and clean fruit/vegetables

• Peel and depip fruit/vegetables

• Slice, dice or pulp fruit/vegetables

• Prepare fruit/vegetables with heating

• Weigh and mix fruit/vegetables and process ingredients

• Process the batch heating, blending, boiling, sieving or cooling (according to the recipe)

• Bottle, label and package

• Store, distribute and sell

These processes can be carried out on three scales: kitchen, food service or industrial, with increasing batch sizes. The batch size is the quantity of product made each time a batch is produced. This depends on the market and determines the size of equipment required. A business able to sell 60 bottles a day of chutney (460g) must produce 39kg a day. The easiest way to organise this might be to design for four batches a day of 10kg each, which again determines the size and type of equipment required. StainlessTraidngSDE

The equipment

1. Preparation

A large part of fruit/vegetable preparation – even in large installations – is carried out manually. The equipment needed for this are sinks, work surfaces, bowls, cutting boards, and knives. For these and all other purchases it’s important to buy equipment that is designed to be used in a hygienic environment. All items coming into contact with food must be made of food and acid-resistant plastic, glass or stainless steel. Wood should not be used for cutting boards, work surfaces or even brushes and brooms, as it absorbs liquids and cannot be hygienically cleaned. Metallic surfaces that come into contact with products – such as knives, pots, cookers – should be made of stainless steel which is inert and cleanable.

2. Blenders, slicers and dicers

These are commercial items ranging from cutting boards and knives through manual graters and slicers to food processing machines that can process hundreds of kilograms per hour. The choice of model will depend on the batch size, and the preparation required by the recipe.

3. Weighing scale

Measuring spoons, cups or preferably a scale, are required to ensure that the recipe is accurately, and repeatedly followed to produce a consistent product. The capacity and accuracy of the scale depends on the batch size and the recipe.

4. Cooker

The cooker is used to control temperatures for processes such as cooking, blanching, pulping, pasteurisation and evaporation. For example, in jam-making the fruit is gently heated to soften it before sugar, water and processing ingredients are added, and the jam is boiled to evaporate water to achieve the required consistency. An accurate thermometer, not a mercury-filled one, is required to measure, record and control temperatures precisely. There are two solutions to applying these processes, depending on the batch size. With a small batch size, the processes are carried out in pots heated on gas rings, a number of which are combined into a boiling table. A boiling table with two or three burners can be used to allow batches to be prepared in a schedule, rather than sequentially. Although a stirrer could be placed into the pots, they are normally agitated by hand. The temperature is controlled by adjusting the setting of the burners. With a larger batch size, you can use oil-heated stand-alone cookers, which are often used in institutional feeding. These start from around 100 litres, which is too large a batch to prepare on a boiling table with pots. Cookers can be fitted with temperature controls to improve the accuracy of temperature/time processes. Catering cookers are normally stirred by hand, although models with stirrers are available.

5. Bottle handling

Bottles must be cleaned and “sterilized” to give the packaged product an adequate shelf life. Glass bottles are placed in boiling water for 5 minutes. Plastic bottles can only be heated to around 800C and need to be rinsed with chlorinated water to inactivate spoilage and pathogenic organisms. Boiling water can be produced in pots on a boiling table, in the cooker or in purpose-designed hot water baths, possibly based on a Bain Marie. If large numbers of bottles are being handled, packing the bottles in wire baskets with handles before immersion will make processing easier and safer.

6. Bottle filling

Small numbers of bottles can be filled directly with a soup ladle from the cooking pot. To fill larger numbers, it could be useful to use a funnel fitted with a valve or a small filling tank. Capping and labelling are normally done by hand, although small-scale equipment is available.

Going into business

Our article has focused on the equipment and not the details of the process and processing. There are a number of free online publications that describe the products and processes along with appropriate technical background. A good example of this is The Manual on Home-based Fruit and Vegetable Processing, FAO 2008 by Ali Azam and C Dufour; which can be downloaded from After securing a market and identifying the equipment to be used, many other actions such as licencing, modifying the premises, setting up materials supply, hiring and training staff and setting up distribution, still remain. These as well as the process information above, are well covered by B Axtell and PJ Fellows in Setting up and running a small fruit or vegetable processing enterprise, CTA 2008; which can be downloaded for free from

Additional information and assistance is also available through local government, local business chambers, local agricultural and economic departments, and education and related organisations.

If you have any questions, Dave Harcourt is available to advise you via email:

Equipment suppliers

The suppliers from South Africa (below) appear to be well-known, but this listing should not be seen as a recommendation. The suppliers from a selection of African countries were found online – in this case, the supplier listed here was the first found with contact details, and therefore carries no specific recommendation.

A.S.A.P Catering Equipment, Johannesburg: Tel +27 (0)11 334 0825; fax +27 (0) 11 334 6233;;

BBRW, Johannesburg: Tel +27 (0)11 834 4006; fax +27 (0)11 838 1364;;

Catering Equipment Online, Pretoria: Tel (0)12 803 8377; fax +27 (0)86 542 7434;

Cater Source, Lagos: Tel: 234-01-761-5607; fax 234-01-460-228;;

CaterWeb, Johannesburg: Tel +27 (0)11 783 4451; fax +27 (0)87 942 6543;;

Ideal Equip, Sénégal: Tel : +221 (0)33 860 23 10; fax +221 (0)33 860 10 38; Contact-Devis.html

International Catering Services (ICS), Accra: Tel +233 (0)30 251 2216; mobile +233 (0)24 462 0246;

Servcor (Private) Limited, Harare: Tel +263 (0)4 62 0301; fax +263 (0)4 62 0300;

Serviscope (EA) Ltd, Nairobi, Dar-es-Salaam: Tel + (254) 20 558236; fax + (254) 20 6536741;;

Vulcan Catering Equipment, Johannesburg, Gaborone, Windhoek: Tel +27 (0)11 249 8500; fax +27 (0)11 249 8534;;

Local companies that supply catering equipment should be easy to identify through business directories, business chambers, or the yellow pages. However, it is also possible to visit a restaurant, hotel or hospital and ask for their assistance to identify possible suppliers, or to identify the supplier from the nameplate on the equipment.