August 2009
SHORT REPORT

Deli Select

In the market for slicers? Check out these tips and see how the latest slicer options stack up to what you need.

By Beth Lorenzini

Who knew that cheese plays a leading role when it comes to choosing a slicer? Turns out a chunky Cheddar or a solid Swiss can be tough on slicer motors.

But what you're slicing isn't as important as how long you're slicing every day that determines how heavy duty a model you need. After that, your decision-making process kicks into high gear as you weigh whether or not you want the myriad sanitation and safety options available.

Reporting For Duty
Slicers come in light-, medium- and heavy-duty versions, and in the heavy-duty category you can opt for manual or automatic mode or a combo of both. The number of hours you plan to slice each day and the product you're slicing will determine which version you'll need.

For example, if you expect to slice meats (but not cheeses) an hour or less a day, a light-duty slicer will do. Typically, light-duty slicers feature a ¼-hp motor and can come with a 9" knife (the most common knife sizes are 10" or 12" as these accommodate a wide variety of product sizes). If you're slicing two hours or less a day—meats and cheeses—you should move up to a medium-duty unit with a 1/3-hp motor and again a 10" or 12" knife.

If your staffers are spending two hours or more a day at the slicer prepping lots of meats and cheeses, you'll want to look at a heavy-duty unit with a ½-hp motor. In this category you're likely looking at 13" or 14" knives. Knives run from the least expensive carbon steel to stainless to a proprietary stellite alloy from one maker. The better the material, the longer the knife lasts; the larger the knife, the more precise the slice and better the yield.

It pays to get an accurate fix on how much you use a slicer each day. Manufacturers say operators notoriously underestimate the amount of slicing they do and opt for a less expensive, light-duty unit when the job really calls for a medium-duty slicer or better. Or, they overestimate their operation's usage and buy more slicer than they need.

You'll want to check out automatic slicers only if you're doing really high-volume production—a commissary or catering situation, for example.

Smooth Surfaces And Open Spaces
If your crew is using slicers more than five to seven years old you really should consider buying new. Slicer engineering has improved so much from a sanitation standpoint that slicer replacement makes good common and legal sense. Today's well-engineered slicers feature seamless bases (especially in the food drop zone), one-piece carriages and rounded edges so there are fewer seams, nooks, crannies and screws to harbor food debris.

On some brands, the classic trouble spot behind the knife where it meets the motor housing has been redesigned. It's wider, smoother and more accessible to wipe down with a cloth and sanitizing solution. Some slicers feature kickstands to prop the unit up while staffers clean underneath.

In the past, slicers have been 100% "clean in place" pieces of equipment. But on new versions, more parts detach so that you can remove and immerse them in a 3-compartment sink. Among the detachable parts: knife sharpeners, entire carriage trays and even knives. On removable knives, make sure the model keeps the knife's ring guard intact during transport or your crew risks handling an exposed knife edge.

And speaking of safety, operators go back and forth on whether they want the various interlocks offered on today's heavy-duty slicers. Interlocks require that certain safe operating criteria are met before the unit can run or be disassembled. It all comes down to how well you think you can train your employees to use slicers safely. The money you save avoiding one workers' comp claim could easily pay for interlock upgrades. Interlocks do any number of things, including prohibiting the gauge plate from opening and exposing the knife when the carriage is removed or tilted out for cleaning.

What Else Is New?
These days manufacturers are engineering ever-niftier features to make slicing easier, more precise (for better yield), safer and more sanitary. One top-of-the-line automatic model has been completely redesigned to use electromagnetic components, bringing the number of moving parts in the slicer down to one from 36. It makes for very smooth, very precise slicing, according to the maker. This same unit allows customizable stroke lengths (most limit you to two or three set stroke lengths to optimize efficiency when you're slicing a pepperoni vs. a large ham, for example).

Another manufacturer recently introduced a sharpener that mounts on the carriage so employees use the same motion they use to slice product to sharpen the knife. It's completely detachable and washable, too. Essentially, newer slicers have been designed to reflect the feedback manufacturers have received from users. Well-made slicers from reputable makers are safer, easier to use and easier to clean than ever before.