As a small food manufacturer thinking about moving from batch to continuous processing, you’ve likely done all of the calculations related to increasing throughput and yield. You’ve considered the scalability and flexibility of the different systems. You’re also keenly aware (because you read the news every day) of how important limiting human contact with your products is for preventing recalls.
These are all major benefits of continuous systems. But, on their own, they’re not enough. The real benefit of continuous processing systems is that they do all of these things while at the same time improving the quality of your products. Unlike batch systems, continuous systems allow you to build quality directly into your process design. And, when it comes down to it, whether you’re a co-packer or you sell products under your own brand, it’s the dependable quality that keeps your customers coming back for more.
Let’s look at three ways continuous systems improve food product quality.
Quality is intimately related to consistency. There’s a reason Americans go to Starbucks in Paris and McDonald’s in Rome — they know exactly what they’re going to get.
With batch processing, consistency is difficult to achieve. Say you have a person flipping chicken breasts on a grill. Do they cook every product for exactly 6 minutes per side? Or suppose you cook those chicken breasts in a batch oven. Will the products on the top rack come out exactly the same as those on the bottom? Maybe. But maybe not.
With a continuous process, you know that every product on the line is treated exactly the same. If you put 5,000 chicken breasts into one of our spiral ovens, you will get 5,000 identically cooked chicken breasts out of the oven. It won’t matter if some products are closer to the inside of the belt and others are closer to the outside, because the process has been designed to account for these variables and still produce consistent results.
For some foods, the time difference between undercooking and overcooking is very small. Chicken is of them — cook it right and it’s tender and juicy; cook it too long and it makes your teeth squeak. Many other process variables, like humidity, can also greatly affect the sensory qualities of the product.
With batch processing, it’s hard to control your cooking with any real precision. This is because batch processes rely heavily on people, and people — even when they do their best work — aren’t as precise as machines.
Continuous processing gives you that precise control. If your product needs just 15 more seconds to be perfectly cooked, you can give it exactly 15 more seconds. If you need 5% more humidity, you can turn the humidity up exactly 5%, without worrying that all of that necessary moisture will escape as soon as the operator opens the door.
Finally, things do sometimes go wrong. A burner will go out or a machine that hasn’t been maintained properly will stop running at the desired speed.
In a batch process, you might not become aware of the problem until it’s too late. If the person flipping chicken breasts doesn’t notice that a burner went out, you might have to throw away an entire batch of product. If your machine performance degrades, you won’t reach your desired throughput.
Continuous processing systems, on the other hand, constantly collect data about their own performance and will alert the operator immediately if anything abnormal is detected. Thanks to these monitoring systems, you can often find and fix a problem before it has a detrimental effect on your products or your business.
Continuous processing can help you grow your business while maintaining the high quality you’re known for. Learn more: