Food Engineering

Flexibility keeps poultry line cooking

March 30, 2003


Higher yields and faster cooking times drove Koch Foods' decision to purchase Heat and Control's AirForce impingement oven for its new poultry plant in Fairfield, Ohio.


With steadily increasing orders pushing its annual sales past $450 million, meat processor Koch Foods decided to construct a poultry processing plant in Fairfield, Ohio, that had the flexibility to fill any type or size of order the company received. Koch reasoned that the project would also provide an opportunity to evaluate processing and packaging equipment not in use at its older plants.

Koch supplies national fast food and retail customers with a variety of ready-to-cook and fully cooked poultry, beef and pork products. Its poultry line includes fried chicken gizzards, par-fried and fully fried breaded chicken patties and tenders, oven-cooked natural breasts, and wings. The new plant is situated on a 15-acre parcel near downtown Cincinnati, and within a few miles of three distributors and two independent warehouse freezing facilities.

Among its criteria for the Fairfield facility, Koch wanted equipment that provided quick change-over times so that the company could easily accommodate a wide variety of products. (It currently produces 52 items in 100 different variations.) Longer belt life, lower cleaning costs and better overall durability were also important factors in selecting equipment. Before proceeding, Koch not only researched the technology of leading manufacturers, but also visited other plants to evaluate fryer operations. In addition, the company conducted cooking tests at the technical centers of equipment suppliers.

After weighing a number of factors, Koch purchased an AirForce impingement oven from Heat and Control, Inc. The AirForce oven produced higher yields and faster cooking times than comparable impingement ovens, and yielded more consistent product temperatures and colors, according to Heat and Control central states account manager Doug Kozenski, who worked with Dorothy Wood, director of Koch's R&D Tech Center, to ensure the equipment met the company's specifications.

Koch also installed a Heat and Control SureCoat batter/breading line that features two 36-in.-diameter drum breaders -- one at the front of the line to pre-dust chicken and the other near the end to apply another "rougher" coating. Because of their larger size, the drum breaders exceed the production capacity of smaller competitive units.

The line also includes two batter applicators and two breading applicators that can be easily interchanged to meet various production requirements. The batter applicators can perform either dip or overflow coating, while the breading applicators can be quickly switched from free-flowing to non free-flowing coating by simply "changing the hopper on top," Kozenski said.

In addition to their flexibility, the applicators are less prone to belt jamming and maintenance downtime than similar equipment at other Koch plants. Among the reasons is a counter weight that reduces tension on the belt resulting from the build-up of breading.

Koch's new batter/breading line features two 36-in.-diameter drum breaders.
The cost and installation time of the facility's new frying system, also supplied by Heat and Control, was greatly reduced by using an externally heated fryer and modular Fryer Support Unit. Equipped with a continuous full-flow filter for crumbs, and a secondary filter to remove ultra-fine particles, the Support Unit was delivered pre-piped, pre-wired and equipped with the main oil circulating pump and associated transfer pumps. Because the fryer system does not use thermal fluid as a heat transfer medium, the need for associated thermal fluid piping was also eliminated, further simplifying installation.

The new indirect-heated fryer operates with a much lower oil volume relative to its production capacity. With the entire oil volume continuously circulating through a filter about once every minute, used oil is replaced more frequently with fresh oil before levels of free fatty acids and other contaminants degrade the oil to the point that it must be thrown out. "Since beginning operation, Koch has not had to dispose of any oil," Kozenski said. In addition, the finished product now has a fresher flavor and longer shelf life.

From the fryer, product passes through a spiral freezer before being packaged. FastBack horizontal motion conveyors then transfer the frozen chicken to a 14-head Ishida large-capacity waterproof weigher and Bosch bagmaker. The slow-forward, fast-back motion of the conveyor reduces the loss of breaded product coatings and reduces cleaning costs. The Koch plant employs 100 workers on a two-shift processing/one shift sanitation schedule.

Heat and Control, Inc., 21121 Cabot Blvd., Hayward, CA 94545-1132. Tel: 510-259-0500