Thermal processing equipment is saving energy, product and money

Today's canning equipment is designed to get thermal products just right.

Wayne Labs, Senior Technical Editor
Food Engineering

The commercially canned products available in the past largely contained overcooked food that was mushy, too salty and tasted anything but fresh—if it had any flavor at all. The only positive characteristic was the safety, with the impossibility of any bacteria surviving the process unless the can was faulty. Thankfully, though the basic procedures are much the same, since then a lot has been discovered about thermal processing—we’ve turned down the heat and maybe even saved a little energy in the process.

Today, traditional canning equipment, retort and other thermal processing systems have been outfitted with the latest sensors, controls and associated devices and refinements to get thermally processed products just right—balanced between meeting food safety specifications and just the right degree of doneness, helping to preserve flavor, texture, nutrients and consistency. In addition, pouch-based cooking systems can cook the food right in the bag, sealing in flavor and keeping the product tender.

What’s driving thermal processing?

Maybe chalk it up to millennials wanting a different caliber of food today. “My kids could care less about brand names,” says Ed Rodden, SugarCreek chief information officer. “They want clean labels, they want variety, they want fresh. So that’s changed the dynamics of the marketplace.” Today, the newer and smaller creative food companies are showing the big brands how to do it, says Rodden. Some of SugarCreek’s customers are employing its Armor Inox Thermix sous vide cooking system because it’s flexible and able to handle the gamut—from starches and pastas to protein and fish. Done in a pouch under vacuum, a sous vide filet mignon, for example, can be browned before the sous vide process or just cooked without browning, leaving the latter for the end user—be it a fine restaurant or a consumer at home.

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