The bread and snack aisles of the supermarket have changed dramatically in the past few years, and some of those changes have impacted the manufacture of those products. But perhaps more significantly, bakery processing is being pushed further than ever by concerns about food safety and sanitation. Additionally, manufacturers of bakery and snack products are finding plenty of opportunities for improvement in the areas of energy consumption and environmental impact.
Even before the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) implementation process came upon them earlier this year, bakers were seeking a higher level of sanitation — through best practices and more hygienic hardware. The segment seems to seek that higher level of sanitation that has been associated with the dairy and meat segments of food processing.
Saving energy and reducing environmental impact was once considered a luxury item (or perhaps a gesture of altruism) that was difficult to reconcile with the razor-thin margins and steep competition of the food industry. In 2012, however, those goals have become an essential part of a company's bottom line and its brand-building efforts and public image.
While the twin priorities of food safety and energy savings have been the driving forces of innovation in baking operations, higher-value grocery products with at least whole grains if not multi grains have in fact led to some changes in technologies and practices as well.
Stainless and recovery
When bakers want new technologies, they turn to suppliers like Heat and Control Inc. (www.heatandcontrol.com), Hayward, Calif. Such equipment suppliers have been busy in recent years responding to the evolving needs of their clients in baking and snacks.
"Everything we are putting out now is primarily stainless steel with post-CIP capabilities," says Doug Kozenski, sales manager of Heat and Control's process systems division. "Our customers want stainless steel construction and they want to have clean-in-place sanitation incorporated into the systems."
Ovens and fryers consume significant amounts of energy and can produce excessive residual heat. In an effort to improve their green scorecard, many bakers have begun recapturing some of that heat and putting it to work.
Heat and Control’s FastBack conveyors are at work distributing cookies.
"Our clients are working to maximize the efficiency of the entire line, and energy efficiency is a big priority," says Kozenski. "Heat recovery from cooker and combustion exhaust is an inexpensive source of energy. We have systems for recovering heat coming off of fryers, ovens and heat exchangers. That heat can then be used for combustion air pre-heating, to heat water, to heat cooking oil or even to heat a building."
Marty Tabaka, director of Americas sales for Ashworth Bros. Inc. (www.ashworth.com), Winchester, Va., agrees that bake and snack manufacturers are seeking equipment with improved hygienic design and cleanability.
"Our customers are looking for designs that are easier to clean and more resistant to build-up. Our major R&D focus right now is on improvement to sanitation," he says.
While sanitation and green technologies have driven many of the changes on the bakery floor, the evolution of consumer preferences has had its own impact, says Karl Seidel, marketing manager at Cablevey Conveyers (www.cablevey.com), Oskaloosa, Iowa.
"Many more bakeries are producing things like 12-grain breads and breads made from whole grains, and people actually want to see those ingredients in the bread," he says. "Because of this, the ingredients and the products can require gentler handling."
More value added-products often mean more expensive ingredients, which can mean different considerations in terms of efficiencies and waste and how they both relate to the bottom line.
Cablevey's solution is a unique conveyer system that is similar to an auger. It uses rotating discs on a central cable to gently pull products or ingredients through a vertical or horizontal tube.
It doesn't rely on air pressure or the rotation of auger blades. At the end of the day, this leads to less ingredient loss and degradation, Seidel says.
Productivity and flexibility
A baking line begins with a mixing and blending step. This is typically achieved with the aid of ribbon mixer or a high-speed rotor-stator mixer. Equipment in that portion of the line has evolved to provide more effective and more efficient mixing and blending.
As is the case elsewhere in the bakery, mixers are more hygienic and easier to clean than ever. Properly-sized motors with new motor technologies allow for greater throughput and lower energy waste.
The chief aim of the mixing process is to efficiently combine the ingredients. For bakers, that usually means flour, sugar, water, salt and yeast. Mixing of dough ingredients also helps develop the required gluten strength to capture, maintain and disperse gas bubbles in the dough.
There is a variety of designs of mixing machinery, and each has its place in the efficient production of dough at the capacity required. The selection of mixer style relates to the product range the baker wishes to produce, and the size relates to the capacity or production output required.
Dough mixers can be categorized into three groups — low-, medium- and high-intensity mixers. Intensity is related more to the degree of kneading, folding and stretching. The goal at the end of the mixing process is to have a fully developed dough mass ready for the next stage of the bread process.