Food Engineering
Tech Update

Tech Update: Meat and poultry processing

Equipment advances help minimize product contamination while raising production efficiency.

January 10, 2014
The Linde Accu-Chill system is the first to chill meat and poultry by injecting liquid nitrogen from the bottom of the blender/mixer.

Meat and poultry processors have new equipment options to bolster productivity, including chilling systems that introduce liquid nitrogen from the bottom, a heat exchanger system redesigned for higher efficiency, and coding/labeling equipment robust enough for washdown without removal from the line.

Linde North America is launching a patented chilling system that introduces liquid nitrogen from the bottom of a blender or mixer/grinder rather than from the top, which it says improves the efficiency of the equipment by 20 to 50 percent compared to competing methods that rely on top injection or other, more standard types of cryogen.

By introducing the nitrogen from the bottom of the mixer, the new ACCU-CHILL bottom-injection system allows the cryogen to vaporize completely throughout the product with higher efficiency than chilling with CO2 pellets, top injection utilizing carbon dioxide or glycol jacket mixers, says Mark DiMaggio, head of food and beverage at Linde North America.

“When a cryogen is introduced into the blender or mixer through top injection, the first medium it experiences is air, not product. Available BTUs in the cryogen are lost even before making contact with the product, which can lead to less efficient chilling,” explains DiMaggio. Top injection with CO2 typically involves snow horns, which can become plugged during freeze/thaw cycles. But injecting from the bottom of the mixer or blender means the cryogen theoretically encounters no air pocket; it contacts the product immediately. C02 has been used with bottom injection, but the choice of cryogen depends on a number of factors.

“From an efficiency standpoint, liquid nitrogen is an ideal cryogen. Its physical properties can be utilized at temperatures down to -320°F—compared to 0°F for CO2—allowing much more refrigeration capacity on a per unit basis than there is with CO2 or glycol. The product is, therefore, less expensive to chill, requires less chilling time (which can increase production capacity) and provides more available refrigeration capacity,” according to DiMaggio. Handling increased batch weights is another way the unit can increase a processor’s production, if the downstream machinery can accommodate it.

Linde’s ACCU-CHILL consistently chills poultry or red meat to a specific temperature in high-production capacity blenders (5,000-lb. batches) that mix fat to lean recipes, fresh versus frozen formulations and various blends that include seasonings. “More consistent chilling results in more consistent forming, product shape, weight and repeatability,” says DiMaggio.

ACCU-CHILL features a bottom-injection manifold consisting of control valve piping with high-torque, pneumatically actuated ball valves and pre- and post-vapor purge cycles to control the liquid and gaseous cryogen supply. The unit utilizes eight to 12 specially designed nozzles installed in the blender that distribute the cryogen uniformly. (Top injection with CO2 typically has one or two injection points yielding coarser control.) It also eliminates valve freeze up, orifice plugging and the need for a separate gas vapor line or electricity to be supplied to a valve at every nozzle. The exhaust lid is at the top of the unit.

Interstate Meat Distributors of Clackamas, OR is one of the first US beef processors to beta test the ACCU-CHILL system. The company, which processes more than 60 million pounds of ground beef and sausage annually, first mated the equipment to a 2,000 lb./hr. blender. The bottom-injection system reduced the amount of mixing required, created less emulsified fat and cut the chill time in the blender from eight minutes to three while delivering high batch-to-batch repeatability, says Darrin Hoy, president of Interstate Meat Distributors. (CO2 top-chill systems can require three times more mixing and 20 to 25 percent more cryogen to achieve similar product temperatures as the ACCU-CHILL system.)

Linde has since added the chilling system to several higher-capacity blenders. The installation includes a new liquid nitrogen tank on a pad outside the plant and new supply lines to the blenders.

 

High-production freezing

Another Linde offering in cryogenic freezing technology is the CRYOLINE CW CRYOWAVE model, a hygienic individual quick freeze unit that freezes small items such as diced poultry and small meatballs at high production rates without product sticking or clumping to belts.

The unit features a patented belt design that imparts a wave-like action to tumble the product, dislodging it from the surface of the belt and surrounding products and exposing more of its surface area to the cryogen spray during freezing for optimal heat transfer.

Competing flighted technology can create snow buildup in the freezer. “Snow carryover is a huge maintenance and production issue. It can occur with CO2, causing product clumping and reducing production capacity. Processors have to stop a flighted IQF freezer to get the snow out and often have to add equipment that sorts CO2 from actual product,” says DiMaggio. Liquid nitrogen does not create snow since it does not transition through a solid phase as it changes from a liquid to a gas. Although CO2 is offered as an option for the CRYOLINE CW IQF freezer, using liquid nitrogen can reduce overall machine cleaning and maintenance time.

Linde also developed and patented a nitrogen impingement freezer, which can serve as an alternative to tunnel freezers for the instantaneous crust freezing of products. A nitrogen impingement freezer typically requires 60 percent less real estate on the production floor than a tunnel freezer and can crust or quick freeze 10,000 to 15,000 lb. of IQF product an hour.

The impingement freezer uses a patented impingement plate design and high-speed blowers that take the liquid nitrogen and increase its velocity to 2,000 ft./min., creating a wind chill effect that penetrates and breaks down the thermal barrier surrounding the product.

 

Focus on hygiene

Production equipment hygiene is an increasingly significant issue in food processing and of greater concern currently due to the number of reported cases of Listeria monocytogenes and Escherichia coli 0157:H7 contamination. “There have been more product recalls than we have seen in recent years,” says Daniel Plante, director of sales and marketing, North America, for JBT FoodTech. “It is a challenge for food plants to effectively clean food processing equipment, and the pressure is increasing for manufacturers to design and introduce food equipment that is easier to clean and maintain.”

To advance its cleanliness and hygiene goals while simultaneously delivering improved process efficiencies, JBT FoodTech implemented design changes to its GYRoCOMPACT line of spiral freezers in two key areas: the product zone and the heat exchanger.

According to Plante, most spiral freezers utilize a drum device to drive the belt on top of the support structure that holds and transports the product during freezing. “The belt cage and support structure are constructed using stainless steel or galvanized steel, and those two components can comprise up to 75 percent of the entire spiral mechanism. There can be more than a thousand feet of metal inside the unit that has to be cleaned, and the more surfaces there are in those areas the more difficult that task is,” says Plante.

JBT FoodTech’s solution was to eliminate the structure holding the food belt by designing a new self-stacking-style belt with side links on either side of it. The patented FRIGoBELT design creates self-contained zones of freezing and permits a tiered stacking belt approach. “By incorporating a self-stacking belt concept, we eliminate the drum and support structure,” says Plante. The system utilizes a vertical countercurrent airflow concept to provide uniform airflow throughout the tiered levels.

The heat exchanger coil is a second critical area where contamination can occur. Evaporator coils for an exchanger have historically consisted of either stainless steel tubes and aluminum fins or aluminum tubes and fins. “To get a bond between the fin and the tube, a coil maker would use a hardened ball pushed by air through the coil to expand the two overlapped components, forming a bonded collar. However, due to the way the tube and fin are bonded, there is still a chance small particles can get between the tube and fin,” observes Plante.

In JBT FoodTech’s new high-hygiene coil, the fin is extruded from the tube in a single piece. The coil was initially designed for the firm’s IQF freezer and received USDA approval for its use in dairy. Subsequently, it was incorporated into the GYRoCOMPACT spiral freezer. JBT FoodTech now offers the high-hygiene coil as a heat exchanger option for its freezers, dryers and steamers.

 

Automated contamination inspection

Automating the quality assurance process for 100 percent inline, real-time inspection is another way to protect against contamination. JBT FoodTech’s DSI J-Scan inspection system provides corrective feedback to line operators; it can scan and sort every product, eliminating the need for manual or semi-automated quality sampling.

The DSI J-Scan System was derived from the company’s DSI Waterjet portioning system, which deploys a vision system to recognize shapes and weights of poultry product, then uses waterjet technology to portion the product to a desired shape. The scanning and housing technology is used in the DSI J-Scan, but there is no waterjet technology tied to it. “The J-Scan system creates a three-dimensional image of each product and accepts or rejects products based on user-selected criteria,” says Plante.

The unit can convert the 3-D image of any product’s shape into a specific weight measurement using a density algorithm that is part of the new DSI Q-Link software platform. But its use is not limited to meat and poultry; the scan system can measure any product’s length, width, height, area, volume, aspect ratio, mass flow and yield, defects and other attributes, says Plante.

 

Complex coding

Labeling and coding in the meat and poultry industry are becoming increasingly complex. “Processors must comply with increasing labeling regulations such as mCOOL and nutritional information, create consumer-friendly branding for case-ready packaging and have accurately marked allergen information to prevent recalls, all while increasing their hygiene standards and reducing costs,” states Lindsay Galas, global meat and poultry marketing manager at Videojet.

Meat and poultry processors are looking to bring in-house and online more of the coding and labeling equipment that adds product information to their flexible packaging. Inline coding equipment simplifies the labeling process because it can produce a range of information clearly including nutritional information, the expiration or sell-by date, batch/lot listing, USDA certification and country of origin or slaughter, and has the capability to quickly change the type of information on the package. Processors also need to ensure the correct information is on the correct package in the correct position. And the unit, if used inline, must be designed to meet good hygiene standards to maintain the integrity of the processing line, adds Galas.

Videojet has launched a new version of its thermal transfer overprinter that features 316 grade stainless steel and an IP65 rating for enhanced protection against dust and water. The Videojet IP DataFlex Plus is designed for use with flexible shrink or vacuum films, bags or pouches, chub packs and trays. “Very few thermal transfer overprinters have an IP65 rating, and that is also true for competing technologies like continuous ink jet printers and laser printing. Because it is IP65 rated, the IP DataFlex Plus makes it easier for processors to clean their lines; they do not have to remove the unit prior to washdown,” says Galas.

With an IP-rated solution, meat and poultry processors can reduce the use of pre-printed films or labels to put information on packages. “If a product or regulatory change requires different information, all the pre-printed film and labels have to be discarded, and new packaging has to be ordered, wasting time and money. Processors can also incur a loss from their pre-printed film investment when executing a product changeover that requires  the roll to be pulled from the production machinery, wound and rolled away,” says Galas.

Videojet’s CLARiSUITE software can help ensure the correct coding is applied during product changeover by using a barcode scanner to read a product UPC or job card. The barcode scanner is connected to the TTO coder. Once the code or job card is scanned, the software retrieves the correct code format and content.

Videojet has also developed IP65-rated continuous ink jet printers and offers laser printing devices so processors can select from various technologies to find the right device for their needs, says Galas.

 

Oil’s well

The filtration of fines and particulates from cooking oil used during the industrial frying of battered or breaded meat and poultry products (like chicken nuggets) have traditionally occurred at rates around 30 gallons per minute, but that is not fast enough to meet today’s ever-increasing production rates, says Doug Kozenski, sales manager, processing systems at Heat and Control.

“As the physical dimensions of the fryers increase, the total oil volume increases as well. However, the units are still filtering at a rate of 30 gallons per minute,” says Kozenski. High particulate volumes combined with low filtration rates can contribute to the creation of free fatty acids—which occur when coatings that fall off the product burn, carbonize and then combine with moisture due to hydrolysis.

One solution to this problem has been the installation of multiple oil filters to achieve higher filtering rates. But this approach can impact flow control and filter cleaning. Further complicating the process has been the use of paper one-pass, one-use filters to remove fine particulates. Users of this technology have to continuously replace rolls of used filters to maintain a base filtering rate.

However, some processors opt to leave the paper filters on longer, which can lower oil flow through them to rates as little as 10 gal./min., resulting in a high-density buildup of particulates. Higher production rates also create a handling and disposal issue, since used filter paper can be considered a biohazard, says Kozenski.

Other processors employ chemical cleaners to remove the particulates, fines and free fatty acids generated by the process. But they also come with associated costs, such as chemical storage and discharge fees.

Heat and Control partnered with Filtration Automation on the Micron-Pro cooking oil filter, which can filter particulates down to submicron levels at 65 gal./min. and potentially up to 120 gal./min. without the use of additives or paper or consumable filter media. The high-volume, high-flow filter features a stationary, perforated stainless steel plate screen and special filter design that quickly removes fines from the oil to minimize burning and free fatty acid formation. Up to 98 percent of the oil can be recovered from filtered particles, depending on the debris type, says Kozenski. Fines are automatically discharged from the filter without operator intervention.

The filter features minimal moving parts and requires no centrifuge, bellows or “conveyorized” screens, according to Kozenski. Low-pressure operation assures safety, and the design allows for variable filter cycle times, providing added control to the filtration process. The filter is designed by Filtration Automation but is manufactured, sold and serviced by Heat and Control.  

 

For more information:

Mark DiMaggio, Linde North America, 908-771-1674, mark.dimaggio@linde.com

Lindsay Galas, Videojet, 630-860-7300, lindsay.galas@videojet.com

Doug Kozenski, Heat and Control Inc., 847-395-6478, dougk@heatandcontrol.com

 Daniel Plante, JBT FoodTech, 519-767-1123, daniel.plante@jbtc.com