ANUTEC – International FoodTec India 2022
Machines that matter- Food processing equipment
Photo - vladimir_n via iStock
Author - Insha Naureen
Food has been inevitable in human existence for thousands of years. Humans consume food in various forms that have evolved. From the ancient cavemen who used fire to cook food to the latest sophisticated equipment that processes food at the click of a button, mankind has come a long way. Food processing is the conversion of raw ingredients into finished or semi-finished products. This involves using a variety of food processing equipment and yields food that is more palatable, safe to consume, with an increased shelf life and added nutrition.
Some equipment types that are prevalent in the food processing sector are
- Preparation equipment- Spray washer, sterilizer, ultrasonic cleaner, magnetic separators, air classifier, vision sorting system, and more.
- Mechanical processing equipment- Meat grinders, attrition mills, roll crushers, band saws, single or twin-screw extruders, emulsifiers, mixers, and homogenizers, among others.
- Heat processing equipment- Ovens, dryers, pasteurizers, fryers, and roasters.
- Preservation equipment- Refrigerators, cryogenic systems, irradiation equipment, and more.
- Packaging equipment- Pick and place robots, case packing machines, food cutting robots, cartoning machines, form-fill-seal machines, and check weighing machines
- Material handling and storage equipment- Conveyors systems, bucket elevators, flat belts, industrial trucks, mezzanines, automatic guided vehicles (AGVs), and more.
Pushing the envelope
Food processing equipment is constantly evolving based on the consumer's demands and to increase production efficiency. Food equipment manufacturers are working towards developing machines that process foods faster while remaining energy and cost-efficient. Some of the latest processing technologies doing the rounds in the food industry are discussed below.
3D X-ray for bread quality
The large volume of bread production makes it difficult to know the changes occurring inside the loaf. Issues like hole formation during incorrect fermentation of bread trouble bakers everywhere. To overcome this, 3D X-ray food inspection technology scans the bread and displays the imperfections inside the loaf through a 3D digital model. This is often combined with an automated rejection process that detects and removes low-quality loaves from the production line. Only acceptable quality pieces of bread are allowed to exit the bakery.
Digital humidity sensors
To get a perfectly baked product, the correct humidity levels inside the oven are of paramount importance. The sensors help bakers know the exact digital humidity readings inside ovens, dryers, proofers, and cooling tunnels. Once the perfect humidity level is achieved, bakery products are more consistent, longer lasting, and of higher quality.
New-generation wire-cut machines
Equipped with a touchscreen interface, the automated wire-cut machines let the operator control the wires and create a design of their choice at any number of quantities and weights. The accuracy, control, and speed these machines offer take biscuit production to another level.
High-pressure processing (HPP)
HPP is a non-thermal processing method that exposes meat to a pressure of 350-600 MPa for a few minutes. This inactivates the oxidative enzymes and pathogens present in meat, leading to enhanced shelf life. The equipment consists of the product placed in a flexible container, which is put in a pressurized chamber containing a pressure-transmitting fluid and a pump to pressurize the fluid. RTE meat that undergoes HPP treatment has a shelf life of nearly ten weeks, which is significantly higher than the 4-week shelf life of normal RTE meat. Presently, HPP is used as a cold pasteurization treatment and tenderizer for fresh meat.
Pulsed electric field (PEF)
PEF is used as a pasteurization method where short bursts of high voltage electric fields (20–80 kV/cm) are applied to foods that lead to microbial inactivation and change in the food structure. According to studies, PEF-treated meat is soft and juicy due to changed meat composition. The technique offers promising meat processing applications like meat safety, fast curing, and tenderization that need further research.
Fruit and vegetable industry
Cold plasma technology
Plasma is the 4th state of matter produced by ionizing gas with high energy. It is applied directly to the food's surface as a pre-treatment. Cold plasma is the most used plasma technology for drying. It helps improve the fruits and vegetables' drying performance, microstructure, and texture.
Several studies have shown that ultrasound pre-treatment improves texture preservation in fruits and vegetables. Additionally, high-power ultrasound applications during their cultivation can be used as an eco-friendly and competent way to enhance their nutritional attributes. Presently, ultrasound water baths and probes or horns are the two types of commercial equipment available for processing fruits and vegetables.
IoT (Internet of Things)
IoT technology can help manufacturers achieve a digitally signaled birth by monitoring the pregnancy with sensing devices placed inside the birth canal. This transmits information that helps them arrange resources before time for safe delivery. In the industry, it offers live monitoring of the milk supply and changes that might affect milk production. This reduces milk rejection rates at the processing plant and helps in milk supply prediction and improved production planning.
The use of nanotechnology can alter products to achieve a good delivery of proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Modified nanomaterials include food flavorings, packaging, and additives. They are used to fortify dairy products and produce low-fat mayonnaise and ice cream using nanoemulsion technology. Some advancements in the field are new product development, designing methods and equipment for food safety, and micro and nano processing.
Cutting-edge technology in present times has sped up the food processing industry. High-speed, efficient machinery is helping manufacturers save time and process bulk orders faster than ever.
For maximum efficiency and cost-effective solutions, the food processing technologies chosen by the companies should involve discussions with experienced engineers, quality control teams, R&D teams, and trade partners. Additionally, when choosing an equipment supplier for the facility, companies should be mindful of a few facts like whether the supplier offers product testing, contact details of previous users to talk to about the equipment, and if they will customize the equipment according to the company's needs. A visit to the manufacturer's plant also helps learn about their attention to detail and organizational capabilities.
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