Food Engineering

Wireless Sensor Confirms Process

March 26, 2003
Today's environment of food safety and HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) has food companies reviewing and confirming processes in duplicate or triplicate just to assure top quality.

Seneca Foods in Marion, NY, is one of the largest vegetable processors in the U.S. At its 14 canning and freezing facilities, FMC continuous rotary sterilizers require time/temperature recordings and Seneca requires a method of process verification for its own quality control.

To achieve process confirmation, Seneca uses a wireless temperature monitoring system from Ellab. "We have a process simulator, but sometimes need to confirm the process in the production sterilizers and Ellab's Tracksense allows us to do this in a very easy and efficient way," says Brent Purvis, a director of technical services at Seneca.

"It is a real-time connection between simulation and production," adds Layne Martin, another director of technical services at the company. "Getting accurate cooling profiles from the simulator can be particularly difficult."

Seneca primarily uses monitoring systems requiring cable connections, but some processing parameters have to be assumed. "The Tracksense has no wires, can be fitted directly within a full or empty can and sent through a process," notes Martin. "It can also simply be placed in with product flow such as in a blanching unit. Depending on whether we are evaluating a deviation, changing a process, developing a new process or problem solving, it gives us direct correlation between data as determined using the Tracksense and thermocouples."

"It is a great tool for studying processes," adds Purvis. "For example, last summer we used it to study all of our blanchers. We were finding uneven quality in some of our products and thought the blanchers might be heating unevenly. We do have controlling and recording probes in the blanchers, but needed to map the entire length, particularly our screw blanchers."

Purvis found hot areas within the blanchers which were not reflected on the recording charts leading to over-blanching of the products. "Using the monitoring device, we identified the hot zone and then got our engineers involved modifying and correcting the problem," he said.

The system played a key role when Seneca converted its hotfill applesauce containers from glass to PET (polyethylene terephthalate). "Cooling coefficients of PET are not the same as glass, and by using the Tracksense monitors mounted in our container's lids, we were able to study the differences," states Martin. "We were then able to modify dwell time and temperature of the cooling bath and cascading water to achieve the same quality end product as with glass containers."

Ellab Inc., 1299 Del Mar Ave., 3rd Floor, San Jose, CA 95128. Tel.: (408) 275-0161; Fax: (408) 280-0979.