Over the past year, upheavals in the economy conspired with multiple product contamination scandals to put enormous pressure on food processors. How processors are handling the pressure is evident in the advances being made in the most fundamental segment in food processing, mixing and blending.
One major trend emerging in mixing and blending noted by Keith Cheries, national sales manager for Manchester, N.H.-based Admix Inc. (www.admix.com), concerns powder blending. “When it comes to induction equipment for powder blending and mixing, our customers continue to be concerned about the safety of their workers,” he says. “Climbing ladders or [navigating] mezzanines with heavy bags of powder is a significant challenge.
“Our powder-induction devices, the Fastfeed and the Optifeed systems, address this challenge. Powder can be added at the floor level eliminating the need for climbing.” Admix’s Fastfeed system uses an in-line, high-shear mixer. According to Cheries, this can eliminate the need for in-tank high-shear altogether.
Another trend Admix is targeting is rework. “Our customers are continuing to look for ways to rework ingredients and add them back into the process versus throwing them away,” says Cheries. “Rework is expensive and wasteful; if it can be eliminated or drastically reduced, plants save thousands of dollars per year.
Certain ingredients lend themselves to being reworked and reused, and this is where Admix technology can help. “Our high-shear mixers impart shear to the ingredients, mixing and reducing particle size, so they can be utilized at some point in the process again. We’ve proven that rework can be achieved in-line as well as in-batch in a tank.”
Sometimes, the best technology is that which is built on an old standby. As track records go, Breddo Likwifier, a division of Caravan Ingredients Inc. (www.breddo.com), Kansas City, Mo., has been marketing its Likwifier stainless steel blender for half a century.
The Likwifier is designed to dissolve solids or semisolids where time, temperature and complete hydration are important. Originally developed to dissolve natural gums and synthetic thickeners in the manufacture of frozen desserts, the Likwifier dissolves and disperses virtually any food product efficiently and completely. It puts into solution not just suspension ingredients dissolvable by agitation.
Other benefits of the Breddo Likwifier include dissolving soluble ingredients in under 5 mins., achieving complete hydration and total product liquefaction, eliminating solid “burn-on” in the vat, eliminating waste at strainers and tank bottoms and completely dispersing insoluble particles in water or non-aqueous media.
“In the past year, Breddo’s challenges have been that food processors are using higher-percentage solids of starch and gum as fat replacers,” says Bill Wade, Breddo’s equipment director. “This required special attention to shear and temperature as it relates to mix-time, requiring custom modifications in some cases.”
Wade notes also the surge in health drinks, which entails rapid hydration of milk proteins and specific mixing procedures and equipment to ensure complete hydration. Last year, Breddo introduced its clean-in-place, double water-flush seal. The seal enhances seal life via silicon carbide faces in conjunction with the water flush capabilities, resulting in a virtually maintenance-free seal - an industry first for bottom-entry agitation, he claims.
Keeping it clean
Silverson Machines Inc. (www.silverson.com), East Longmeadow, Mass., sees the hot-button food safety issues as especially relevant to mixing and blending. Silverson describes its new “Ultra Sanitary In-Line Mixer” line as “the most sanitary machines on the market today.”
“With more food scares here and abroad, people - especially those who work in multinational environments - now have much higher expectations for their equipment,” says Silverson president Harold Rothman. “It wasn’t that long ago when machines were stripped down weekly for cleaning. Today, more manufacturers are demanding equipment that is clean-in-place or sterilize-in-place, and lines and equipment are being cleaned more frequently.”
Mixers designed for food use in the U.S. must comply with 3-A sanitary standards. The Ultra Sanitary mixers surpass 3-A requirements. Every mixer is designed to meet the European Hygienic Engineering & Design Group (EHEDG) standard – the strictest in the world and the international benchmark for sanitation, Rothman says. EHEDG standards set stringent bacterial contamination level parameters for equipment to achieve after cleaning. Silverson claims it currently is the only manufacturer in the world producing mixers certified to both sets of standards.
North Andover, Mass.-Chemineer Inc.’s Kenics brand (www.kenics.com) static mixers combine an increased heat-transfer coefficient and high heat-transfer capability with “available sanitary construction” parameters to enhance safety factors. Built to TEMA /ASME (Tubular Exchanger Manufacturing Assn./American Society of Mechanical Engineers) standards, they rely on clean-in-place, stainless steel construction and clamp-style fittings to provide continuous, in-line mixing with no moving parts, no maintenance and no external power requirements.
The trend toward healthier formulations also requires more specialized mixing and blending machinery. Dinnissen Process Technology (www.dinnissen.nl), Sevenum, Netherlands, and K-Tron Process Group (www.ktron.com), with U.S. headquarters in Pitman, N.J., recently introduced a new dosing and mixing concept for the high-quality food industry. The Pandora End-of-Line Mixing concept was developed especially for highly demanding situations in which a maximum of 10 (micro)components must be mixed quickly, carefully and homogeneously.
Ingredients are constantly fed into and removed from a highly compact mixer. The system employs several highly accurate gravimetric feeders (from the K-Tron Process Group side) coupled with Dinnissen’s Pegasus Paddle Mixer. The feeders measure ingredient input to the paddle mixer with a high level of precision. Input can range from micro-ingredients (0.01-2.0 percent) to extra-high percentages (30-220 percent) of batch weight. The gravimetric feeders have fast response times, minimizing product loss during adjustment periods.
Because it works on a continuous mixing principle, the Pandora system also is particularly suitable for situations in which it is essential to switch quickly and easily to new recipes while preventing contamination and segregation. Low energy consumption is an additional advantage.
The system is especially suitable for spraying oils and liquids onto powders, pellets and granulates. It mixes fragile, leafy vegetables in 6-8 seconds; sticky powders or powders and liquids that are difficult to mix are done in 30-50 seconds. Pandora can handle quantities from 50 kg to 100 tons per hour, with easy switching of recipes.
The Pandora End-of-Line Mixing concept is currently being used in a number of processes, including muesli, baby food and cacao as well as for adding nutraceuticals such as probiotics, vitamins and minerals to dairy products and other foodstuffs.
Equipment manufacturers have worked diligently to not only keep up with but to anticipate shifts and changes in processor needs. As food safety and contamination issues conspire with economic stresses to impact bottom lines, modernized designs and modular systems continue to draw the attention of food and beverage processors seeking more efficient mixing and blending systems.