A Cut Above: Tips for Specifying Slicers

Slicers help operators showcase freshness while new features make them smarter, safer and easier to use and clean.

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A scale, removable and optional on some slicers and integrated on others, can save time for employees by adding convenient, built-in portion control. Courtesy of Edlund.

A staple in sandwich shops and delis, slicers have long helped operators cut meat and cheese quickly, accurately and consistently. But post-COVID, some operators are seeing them not only for what they can do, but also for what they signify. Situated front-of-house, the shiny equipment signals to customers that products are sliced fresh—something that’s become more important.

Coming out of COVID, manufacturers of slicers have seen an uptick in demand for the equipment for that reason: to showcase freshness and stand out from the competition—a switch from relying on prepackaged meats and cheeses that became more common during the pandemic. “So, it’s driving demand for slicers,” says one manufacturer. “During COVID, it was all about prepackaged in a bag … Now it’s flipped the other way, and they’re going, ‘No, I need to draw human beings back to our establishment.’ And one of the [ways] we do it is with fresh-sliced product.”

Slicers also have become more attractive as a result of their potential savings on labor and food costs. Semi-automatic options have grown in popularity, says a manufacturer, as they lessen the load on employees—a selling point for restaurants focusing on recruitment and retention—and the ability to slice consistently and accurately helps operators control food costs amid high inflation.

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Removable parts for easy cleanup are among features to consider when specifying slicers. Courtesy of Globe.

CUTTING EDGE

Over the last few years, manufacturers have introduced new models and features, making slicers smarter, safer and easier to use. Updates include:

NEXT-LEVEL TECHNOLOGY. Today’s operators don’t have to keep track of as much as they used to, as some of the latest slicers do it for them. One maker’s “smart” slicers come equipped with indicators that signal when it’s time to clean, sharpen or maintain the unit. The slicers also come networked for inventory and recording purposes. Additionally, they give multiunit operators an overview of all slicers and show their status and use, providing a basis for process optimization and planned investments.

LOW-FRICTION BLADES. One maker recently released a low-friction blade (at 12 inches or 13 inches in diameter) on its value and premium slicers to make slicing easier. Some of the blade recesses in order to reduce product-to-slicer friction—especially when slicing cheese—and delivers a smooth, precise cut while producing less wear and tear on the slicer and motor. Another maker offers a cheese blade with a scallop in it to reduce friction by breaking the vacuum seal that takes place during use.

INTEGRATED SCALES. Some slicers now incorporate scales so employees—whether they’re using manual or automatic slicers—can slice to weight without spending extra time moving product to an external scale. Manual slicers with integrated scales allow the employee to slice until the desired weight is hit, indicated (in at least two makers’ cases) on touch displays. On semi-automatic slicers, employees press a button to program how much product they want sliced, and the equipment takes care of the rest. At least one maker offers a removable scale platform.

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Blade removal tools with locking features improve employee safety. Courtesy of Bizerba.

LOCKING FEATURES. While blade removal tools have been on the market for years, one maker has recently introduced its first, which focuses on locking the blade in not one but two areas, making it impossible to remove it by accident. The maker says it developed the tool after feedback from customers who were concerned about blades falling outside of a tool during cleaning and sanitizing.

MAKING THE CUT

When specifying a slicer, it’s important to consider the types of slicers on the market to determine what best fits your needs.

Slicers come in three types: manual, semiautomatic and fully automatic. Manual slicers require employees to push product past the rotating blade. They’re typically recommended for establishments that slice to order. While a couple manufacturers say this style has been most popular with chain restaurant accounts, another says that flipped post-COVID, with more operators now turning to semi-automatic slicers.

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Manual slicers are typically recommended for establishments that slice to order. Courtesy of Univex.

Semi-automatic slicers are quicker and more efficient than manual slicers, allowing users to program slice thickness, carriage speed and stroke length, and let the machine run on its own. It’s a perk the aforementioned maker says operators are leveraging to improve the employee experience. “So there’s a labor shortage, if they show up. And they’re trying to make it easier on an operator when they’re there,” says the maker. Semi-automatic slicers also can be operated manually.

Fully automatic slicers, then, are programmed to slice a certain amount of product and deposit it on a belt or tray. The high-volume machines are generally used by food processors on production lines.

Once you decide between manual or automatic, consider how much power you’ll require. Most makers offer light-, medium- and heavy-duty models, and which one you need depends on several factors, including what you’re going to slice and how long you plan to slice a day. For operators looking to slice just meat for a small portion of the day, light-duty models can get the job done. If you plan to slice cheese, consider a medium- or heavy-duty model. For operators with higher volume—or those slicing frozen meat or a lot of cheese—heavy-duty models are recommended.

Connectivity allows slicers to be networked for inventory and recording purposes.

Slicers also come in gravity-feed and vertical styles. Gravity-feed slicers are the most common type used in chain restaurants, according to several manufacturers. With these, the blade and carriage are positioned at an angle. They use gravity and the product’s weight to move it through the slicer, making manual operation easier on employees.

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Gravity-feed slicers make manual operation easier on employees. Courtesy of Hobart.

Vertical slicers, in which the blade is positioned vertically, come in handy for operators who, for instance, have a 15-inch chuck roast (that typically would be cut in half before being placed on a gravity-feed slicer) they want to slice to a particular thickness or want thicker cuts of steak or paper-thin slices of cheese. One maker says the vertical position allows the user to hold the product more easily than on a gravity-feed slicer, giving them better control and accuracy.

A WORD ON MAINTENANCE

Slicers can easily get gummed up if you don’t keep up on maintenance. Opting for slicers with fewer pieces can prevent food debris from collecting in extra crevices, reducing time spent on cleaning and the chances of bacteria growing. Most makers have moved to one-piece bases, but some also offer one-piece carriages and one-piece gauge plates.

“Anything that you can do to save the end-user time is beneficial, just because of the way the market is now. Anything that makes cleaning easier and faster, anything that helps resolve issues quicker and faster, anything that helps the process along without adding more time is always going to be beneficial to the end-user,” says one maker.


Looking Sharp

Safer and easier to clean, today’s manual and automatic slicers provide plentiful options. 

 

 

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