This is the future of food thermal processing today

“Food manufacturers face a wide variety of challenges,” says John Mössner (Pr Eng), Head of Applications Engineering at HG Molenaar. “These include the need to offer a wider variety of products and reformulating recipes more often. They are looking to improve manufacturing, production, and supply chain efficiencies. At the same time, they need to meet the demand for greater volumes, reduce manufacturing costs, and maintain production output.”

Many food producers use retorts for in-container sterilization. It is a reliable process to achieve commercial sterility while preserving product flavors and nutritional value.

This traditional technology has benefitted from several innovative advances as well as supporting technologies and services to help modern food processors and manufacturers deal with their complex requirements.

Equipment design has been improved, there are new and better laboratory services, and companies have adopted Industry 4.0 technologies, which have been accelerated due to the lockdown caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Different heating options are more suited to specific types of food and beverage products. This typically limits the use of the retort based on the application required. Consequently, when consumer behavior changes, demanding different types of packaging, advances today make it possible to retrofit different modules to change the heating option most suited to that specific packaging.

“Having one retort that is capable of both steam and spray gives food processors options that make them more flexible in meeting market demands,” says Mössner. “It also maximizes the returns on their investment in the retort itself as well as the baskets that go into it. That becomes increasingly important as you scale up the food processing operation.”

There is more to a retort than just the mechanical components. It is the sum of the experience and skills that go into the design, which is crucial to the scientific process behind achieving commercial sterility. Heat distribution and heat transfer are two separate yet ferociously important considerations. They determine the quality of the product that emerges from the retort.

“Laboratory services that help the food processors understand the heat distribution and heat transfer are increasingly invaluable in meeting stringent quality requirements,” says Mössner. “Equally, laboratory services that lean on that skill and experience help food processors improve recipes in competitive and saturated markets.”

Maintaining the equipment and ensuring maximum production output is a key focus. Industry 4.0 technologies are being rolled out to support field operations, resulting in different levels of remote support via online access to the equipment and the use of augmented reality (AR) technologies.

“Helping food processors overcome the challenges they encounter, has shaped these innovative new solutions and services that we offer,” says Mössner. “We’ve put all of our more than 70 years of experience into creating the most advanced solutions based on dependable and reliable engineering.”