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Fully equipped test kitchen opens in Europe

26 January 2011

European food processors are being welcomed to a fully equipped kitchen in the UK to “kick the tires” on the ''latest and greatest'' cooking and freezing high-volume, high speed equipment options the US has to offer

Located just outside of London in Ashford, UK, the newly opened kitchen allows European food processors to test a variety of cooking and freezing options and to optimise the equipment and the process before they put down a penny.

Customers from Austria, Germany, Poland, Spain, France, the UK and other European countries have already visited, or are booking appointments to bring in product – be it cooked or frozen, vegetable or meat – and run tests on the actual equipment they are considering purchasing.

The variety of food processing test equipment on display in the 500+ sq. meter European test kitchen is unprecedented. The facility houses a Micro Spiral Oven, the world’s smallest spiral oven measured by its 2m X 1.5 m footprint; equipment that can smoke a ham in a minute; infrared pasteurization equipment that in less than 60 seconds extends shelf-life by more than 30% compared to other methods; a flame grill with the most ribbon burners in the industry that produce beautiful bar-marks for a flame grilled appearance; and a newly released machine called the Tunnel of Fire that can flame roast chicken in 30 seconds.

In fact, the Tunnel of Fire was a machine developed in 2010 for a Belgian food processor looking to maintain the consistency and quality of traditional flame glazed hams. The previous method for achieving a flame glaze literally involved a hand-held blow torch – a labor intensive technique that was not sustainable as the business grew.

The Tunnel of Fire was developed by Unitherm Food Systems – the manufacturer behind the European kitchen – to meet the Belgian food processors need to increase production without compromising the quality of a very traditional product.

“The future of food processing machinery purchasing is going this way, where the customer can demand to go into a kitchen and actually try out their product on the machinery,” says David Howard, CEO of Unitherm Food Systems of Bristow, Oklahoma. “Only then can they feel confident that the equipment best serves their operational parameters and expected results.”

Already recognized throughout the food processing industry for its unique heat transfer systems that maximize yields and reduce processing times, Unitherm decided to duplicate the success of its $2.5 million, 2300 square meter kitchen at its plant in Tulsa, OK that would be more accessible to European food processors.

In addition to its U.S. sales, Unitherm Food Systems exported cooking and chilling equipment in 2010 to locations around the world including Australia, Chile, Israel, Belgium and the U.K. The company was recognized for its international sales by the US Chamber of Commerce for Oklahoma and awarded a certificate of achievement for the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Export.

“Our European customers want to try out their products on the machines,” says Howard, a European expatriate that now resides in Oklahoma despite being born in England and raised in Northern Ireland. “Having a test kitchen open in Europe will help move the industry forward with U.S. technology that has helped some of the most successful food processors in the world.”

The combined value of the equipment in both kitchens is upwards of $12 million worth of fully operational production machines and product handling equipment that can continuously feed as many as 10 different cooking processes. Think: steaming, blanching, broiling, baking, searing, branding, grilling, and pasteurizing; convection impingement to infrared; with gas, electric or thermal oil. Cooking temps range from below boiling point all the way to 1,300°C.

Likewise, quick cooling “crusters” have attained de rigueur status for any food-processing plant that produces meat or poultry logs. Round out the chilling side of the business with a spiral freezer and a continuous impingement freezer.

With the inclusion of infrared or aquaflow pasteurizers, almost every imaginable aspect of the meat, vegetable and ready-to-eat food processing industry is covered in today’s modern kitchen.

Early feedback indicates that these kitchens are proving to be quite popular among food processors. Whether fire-roasting Portobello mushrooms, steaming potatoes, cooking vegetables and other ingredients for sauces and ravioli fillings or baking chicken tenders, experimenting with the equipment emboldens processors to proceed with confidence, knowing that the equipment will maximize yields, reduce processing times, increase food safety, and improve the taste of final product

Many manufacturers even go so far as to bring in design engineers to modify the equipment to further customize the equipment to actually improve the process.

“One of the first visitors to the European kitchen is a food processor from Spain,” recalls Howard. “They have already purchased a machine, but will be shipping us product from Spain and working with our experts in further processing technology in preparation for the machine to be installed this March, 2011.”

Such positive outcomes get repeated in these new kitchens with all manner of food products and purposes.

“By testing product in a kitchen with the exact kind of equipment they will be purchasing, we’re helping food processors to focus on how to improve the quality, yield and throughput of their final product in an observable, real way,” explains Howard. “Ordinarily, people visit a plant, go back and have a corporate meeting, and then purchase. But these kitchens help speed that process.”


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