Across the highly competitive food and beverage sector, manufacturers are continuously striving to increase market share and profits whilst maintaining quality.
“In turn, there are ever greater burdens on productivity and flexibility in the process,” says Doug Anderson, marketing manager at Vega Controls.
Anderson explains that industry processes need to run faster than ever before and at temperature extremes, where mixing and homogenisation stages are more intensive, pressures increased, flows higher, and where filling and packaging is quick and accurate.
There are ever greater burdens on productivity and flexibility in the process
Doug Anderson, marketing manager at Vega Controls
Manufacturers are under pressure to produce high-quality products that are both economical and more desirable than competitors, and ensure they are both safe and nutritious – this is where test and measurement is key.
“When it comes to quality,” says Joshua Gumbs, sales engineer at HBM, “traditionally the focus has been on the removal of micro-organisms after processing, for example by the application of heat, or the control of oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations and the removal of nutrients needed for microbial growth.”
However, in line with the recent trend for consumers to demand food that is fresh, untreated and without preservatives or other additives, it now has to be virtually impossible for micro-organisms to enter any stage of the production process.
In order to achieve this, food materials need to be tested before, during and after the manufacturing process to ensure that the final product meets the desired standard.
With consumer demands high, an area of growing importance for the production of packed goods is Modified Atmosphere Packaging or MAP.
“With establishing the MAP solution,” says Alexander Kampschulte, head of marketing at WITT Gas, “it became possible to keep the quality of fresh food over a longer period of time and at the same time to achieve an appealing product presentation at the point of sale.”
The modern MAP method has relatively high requirements concerning the packaging process, so for quality control it’s necessary to establish comprehensive test and measurement procedures.
With establishing the MAP solution, it became possible to keep the quality of fresh food over a longer period of time and at the same time to achieve an appealing product presentation at the point of sale
Alexander Kampschulte, head of marketing at WITT Gas
Meanwhile, beverage manufacturers are under pressure to streamline processes and become more efficient too.
“Some manufacturers who harvest their own ingredients are under additional pressure from volatile overseas competition and large supermarkets squeezing margins in order to profit and keep consumers happy with low shop prices,” says Elizabeth Abolins, business development at Status Instruments.
This type of stress can be off-set by ensuring reliable and accurate process control – alerting the user when processes aren’t running efficiently. In other words, a user’s time can be spent elsewhere, knowing their process is consistently being measured and monitored.
Developments have also resulted in more stringent hygiene requirements during the actual production process.
As a result of this, the European Hygienic Engineering and Design Group (EHEDG) has laid out a series of guidelines which reflect the need for components of food processing equipment to comply with hygiene standards.
“The most important guideline being that systems and components must be easy to clean,” explains Gumbs. “Setting aside the actual surfaces that are used in the food production process, these measurements are relevant to all systems and components, such as weighing systems used in filling and packaging systems which are used in the production process.”
With this in mind, components, such as load cells, are now being developed. These are hygienic and also provide the necessary technical solutions.
Adopting a joined-up approach to food quality assurance and contamination, Phil Brown, sales director at Fortress Technology, says: “Consumers are more aware than ever about where their food is from and how it’s being processed and handled right across the supply chain. “Since size, shape and symmetry of metal contaminants cannot be controlled, operating a metal detector at the highest possible sensitivity setting is generally viewed as the best method to tackle product contamination of this type.”
Every mistake during the packaging process is critical for end product quality: loss of nutrients, less flavour, taste or colour, spoilage by micro-organisms, or increase of pathogen micro-organisms.
“First, it is important to supply the packaging machine with the correct, precise gas mixture for the packaging process,” explains Kampschulte. “Second, the sealing process is a critical point.” Depending on the food and packaging machine, many things can go wrong.
“Defective temperature or pressure distribution, improper sealing tool arrangement, impure or worn out tools as well as seal contaminations,” says Kampschulte.
Let alone defective material that can lead to undetected serial leaks. Even with special diligence during the process design, inaccurately packed goods can hardly be avoided all the time.
For package leak testing there are very good solutions available based on the detection of CO2 – as sample test or in-line
Alongside, MAP technology can provide a high-quality modified atmosphere packaging process to protect the food quality for a longer period.
“Let’s start with the required gas mixture,” says Kampschulte. “Modern gas mixing systems create highly precise gas mixtures, can be easily integrated into various packaging machines, and have low power consumption and low maintenance. But first of all they offer the highest flexibility levels.”
Different gas mixtures can quickly be achieved with the push of a button. For quality control purposes, gas mixers can be combined with online gas analysers for permanent control.
After the packaging process, the gas mixture within the package can be checked with sample testing. With the aid of a needle, a gas sample is taken from the package with a gas analyser.
“High-quality analysers require just minimum sample gas and are suitable for even the smallest of packs with little headspace, which means just a minimum of protective atmosphere within the package,” explains Kampschulte.
However, all these solutions and efforts are useless when the package is leaky. Therefore, leak testing as a final step is essential.
“For package leak testing there are very good solutions available based on the detection of CO2 – as sample test or in-line,” says Kampschulte.
The general demand by consumers is for product quality and more information on the food and drink they consume.
“High product recalls, greater emphasis on food safety, and increasing consumer demand are all driving improved product marking within the food and beverage industry,” says Robert Brooks, European industry marketing manager, food and beverage, at Omron.
For a long time, packaging has been at the centre of attention for process enhancement, but conclusive leak testing has increasingly become more important. “Admittedly, leak testing in general is currently not regarded as a critical control point for the purpose of a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) concept. But, given the aforementioned risks, it is not surprising that the topic has gained importance for food manufacturers,” says Kampschulte.
Alongside sample testing there is a strong trend for in-line leak detection because, as Kampschulte explains: “Only complete leak testing of packages in the final inspection offers genuine safety.”
“It is essential to ensure new products don’t lose their functionality but improve customer process monitoring and measuring without impacting them with a financial burden, while the industry is affected by ever increasing standards,” concludes Abolins.