Food Engineering

Field Report: Packing a punch

January 7, 2004
Habanero-flavored peanuts stay fresher longer with liquid nitrogen flushing system.



Among other factors, Southwest Specialty Food considered the footprint of various liquid nitrogen systems. The VBS LCI-300 occupies just two square feet of floorspace. Source: VBS Industries.
Some like it hot, "Ass Kickin" hot to be exact. Southwest Specialty Food, Inc. is not only the world's largest habanero specialty food manufacturer but also grows the world's hottest commercially grown habanero peppers. The company markets the peppers as part of its Ass Kickin line of products, which includes its habanero pepper-flavored peanuts. A co-packer packaged the peanuts until April 2003, when Southwest Specialty Food brought the line in-house to reduce costs and support a product line expansion.

But if you think a bite of the world's hottest habanero pepper is the only thing that can bring a tear to your eye, think again. Bringing the line in-house brought its own challenges. "The biggest roadblock we faced in bringing the peanut line in-house was nitrogen flushing," says Jeff Jacobs, president of Southwest Specialty Food. "Historically, this operation involved a huge nitrogen gas tunnel." The company needed to find a nitrogen flushing system that occupied a smaller footprint and reduced the oxygen headspace of the package, which would help maintain product freshness and extend shelf life. Southwest Specialty chose VBS Industries and its LCI-300 Auto Fill, a small automated liquid nitrogen (LN2) injection system.

Following the filler, the VBS system meters a small dose of liquid nitrogen into each container. As the nitrogen warms from -320