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A no-waste flavouring and coating technology

07 April 2018

Food Processing spoke to Judith Hewitt, managing director at Spice Application Systems, a company which offers an interesting product flavouring and coating solution which can offer a host of benefits for food producers. 

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Q. Could you explain a bit about the electrostatic coating technique and what benefits it can offer in food applications, when compared with more traditional coating solutions.
Electrostatics use the attraction of opposites to great effect. Imagine a food production line – anything from potato or corn snacks to confectionery, cereals, or pet food.  

When it’s time to add flavourings and coatings, the electrostatic coating equipment uses an electrode at the tip of an electrostatic spray head or atomizer. As the oils or powders are sprayed onto the base product they move past the electrode, becoming negatively charged and creating an electrostatic field.  

The positive and negative effect means the particles will automatically adhere to the ‘grounded’ food items and, due to the electrostatic attraction, spray that would normally be in the air, attaches itself to all sides of the product, creating a true ‘wraparound’ effect.  

This solution can help save powder and oil. Most systems simply ‘remain where they touch’ so there’s a great deal of wastage. Because electrostatic adhesion is so precise, all the flavouring and coating ends up on the product, not in the bottom of the drum.  

It is also a quicker and more efficient process, using less time and powder, so is also more environmentally-friendly. There are less dusting and misting emissions so workplaces are much cleaner.  

Depending on the quantities manufactured, we believe companies can see a return on investment within around four months in terms of savings alone – mainly through less wastage and greater energy efficiency.

The system is also great for coating fragile products. Due to the shape of the tumbling drum, even intricate shapes and sizes will come out the same as they went in.  

Q. Is the technology a mature one, might we expect to see any developments in the coming year?
SAS pioneered the use of electrostatics in the food sector and has been a recognised industry leader for well over a decade and we are always working on new and innovative equipment. For example, we are currently working on a new snacking system and exploring new developments in confectionery.  There is a trend to move away from sugar so manufacturers want to be able to use different and exciting new flavours to tempt the taste-buds. We offer trials and tasting facilities to help them get the results they want.  

Q. Can electrostatic coating systems be retrofitted into existing coating lines?  
Yes, you can either retrofit or buy new equipment with the electrostatic elements built in, which is often the most efficient and effective way – especially the system is in the process of being upgraded.  

Q. In your four years at SAS have you seen an increase in the use of electrostatic technology in the food industry? If so, in any particular food production sector, and to what do you attribute this?
I’d certainly say that electrostatics continues to make steady inroads. Once manufacturers try it, they don’t want to go back. For example, pop chips are now a staple on supermarket shelves today. Yet, when we started using electrostatics to flavour them, they were a novelty product and we’re proud to have played an important part in helping popularise them.

Another area where we are seeing a real increase is the cheese sector. Shredded cheese is in huge demand, both for use in standalone packets and on food items such as pizzas and pasta dishes. To stop grated cheese sticking together, it needs to be coated with starch powder and this has caused real problems as the dust settles on production lines.  Using electrostatics can now almost completely eradicate that problem as it dramatically cuts the amount of powder in the air during the application process and at the same time reduces wastage offering 100% product coating.  

Q. Do you see any undiscovered areas in the food industry that could particularly benefit from the use of electrostatic coating technique?
Rather than food-related areas, I would actually say most of the UK food manufacturing industry. It’s astonishing how little enthusiasm there is for change in the UK, it’s very much a question of doing things the same way they have always done.  European manufacturers were among the first to see the benefits of the technology but more recently our biggest growth is coming from the Asian and Far East, as well as the Eastern Europe.

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