Processing Innovation is Alive and Well

Processing innovation is alive and well. We look at five technologies of tomorrow that are available today (or soon): supersonic processing, high-pressure sterilization, bioseparation, radio frequency heating and carbon dioxide extrusion.

By Mike Pehanich, Plant Operations Editor

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Information technology and automation have dominated food industry capital investment in recent years. At times, processors have sat like wallflowers at a sock hop when innovative concepts asked them to take a spin around the dance floor.

 

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But make no mistake: Processing technology is alive and well and, in some cases, already knocking on your door with resolutions to timeless industry challenges as:

  • Food safety
  • Huge reductions in process times
  • Qualitative improvements
  • Energy savings
  • Massive productivity gains
  • More healthful products
  • Fewer ingredients and cleaner ingredient labels
  • Dramatic reductions in equipment and process line footprints

As we look ahead to the Oct. 29 co-located Pack Expo and Process Expo, Food Processing surveyed a number of food industry leaders to identify five processing technologies that appear ready to take their place in the food plants of tomorrow.

Supersonic processing

What rolls as many as five processing steps into one, compresses half-hour processes into minutes and cooks with supersonic technology?

It’s a mixing-heating-pumping system called PDX Sonic, developed by Pursuit Dynamics in the United Kingdom and distributed in the U.S. by A&B Process Systems, Stratford, Wis.

 

The PDX Sonic unit mixes, pumps and heats instantaneously using low-pressure supersonic “shockwave” technology.
The PDX Sonic unit mixes, pumps and heats instantaneously using low-pressure supersonic “shockwave” technology.

 

A unique technology developed by Pursuit Dynamics and applied to food manufacturing compresses multi-stage processes for sauces, gravies, jelly, soup, condiments, starch thickeners, salad dressings, custard and even complex meat soups into simple, single-station operations. And it is all done within a small footprint.

Initially designed by Australian Alan Burns to propel watercraft, the PDX Sonic system may be the 21st century’s first leapfrog processing technology. Called a “steam-based supersonic shockwave technology,” the PDX Sonic system is, quite literally, a blast, moving steam at supersonic speeds to process in minutes products that may normally take hours.

“PDX replaces several pieces of equipment: a heat exchanger, a pump, a jacketed vessel and a powder mixer,” says Stuart Rigby, Pursuit Dynamics’ head of product and process implementation. “A lot of recipes are multi-stage processes with a preparatory step and four to five processing stages. Multiple stages mean more opportunity for error, but this system limits chances of mistakes by mixing, heating, pumping and homogenizing simultaneously.”

The process equipment is minimal and compact, consisting of hoppers, a mixing vessel and process piping. At the new A& B test center in Stratford, Wis., many products from jellies to ice cream toppings have been tested – with outstanding results.

PDX Sonic also can be used for rapid, precise, quality-controlled cooking of long-grain rice, pasta, scrambled eggs and other foods and for rapid and thorough dispersion of gums, sweeteners and other ingredients. Symbol and soul of the technology is a small (10-in.) and unassuming tube that took four years and roughly $15 million to develop.

As the ingredient mix is added to the hopper, steam enters the annular conditioning chamber wrapped around the PDX. The steam then enters the process flow. The geometry of the chamber drives steam to supersonic speeds, generating a “controllable shockwave.”

When steam moving at such speed hits the fluid, it creates an environment ideal for mixing and heat transfer. The configuration of the PDX, which is available in three bore sizes, drives steam at speeds two and three times that of sound. “When the steam is injected at high speed, it has nowhere to go, so you have 100-percent use of the steam,” explains Rigby.

The company boasts improvements in processing speed of up to 10 times and up to 80 percent decrease in cleaning time due to the eradication of burn-on contamination. According to Rigby, results to date include an Alfredo sauce with zero burn-off, barbecue sauces in 15 minutes instead of 90 minutes and other product successes – most with energy reductions of 50 percent or more. Better flavor and smoother texture are typical. Rigby estimates most companies will experience payback in 10 to 12 months. “It’s wicked for making scrambled eggs as well,” says Rigby.

High-pressure sterilization

High pressure is about to move from a processing technology with pasteurization side-benefits to a viable sterilization technique.

High-pressure processing sidled into the food industry in the early 1990s, catching the fancy of engineers and food scientists but making only slow progress with processors. Used since 1991 in Japan for jellies and jams, high-pressure processing has slowly entered the American processing arena through Avure Technologies Inc., a Gores Group company.

High pressure met its first commercial success in the U.S. market when Fresherized Foods in Keller, Texas, employed it for guacamole dip processing. The technology extended shelf-life fivefold – from 6 days to 30. The process also has been employed for sliced meats in Europe and in a variety of seafood applications.

 

Fresherized Foods has used high-pressure sterilization for guacamole, including that in its Mexican food kits.
Fresherized Foods has used high-pressure sterilization for guacamole, including that in its Mexican food kits.

 

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