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Steaming into a pouch cleaning solution

20 September 2019

The use of steam to purge and clean residue before capping of pouches has helped a baby food manufacturer to cost-effectively differentiate itself in a crowded market. 

The food and beverage industry is highly competitive which puts pressure on operating margins across the supply chain. The industry also, by its nature, needs to be fast-moving to keep up with changing consumer demands and this requires companies such as Natural Fruit & Beverage Co, a packer of food products into resealable pouches, to continually identify areas for improvement in the quality of its products and processes. 

In 2017, Jamie Walker, manufacturing manager at Natural Fruit & Beverage Co, was approached by a food industry customer looking to enhance the quality of its product – baby fruit puree sachet pouches. Ultimately, the company wanted to differentiate itself from its competitors to help it win future contracts.

Traditionally, the baby food manufacturer had been using CO2 for purging and cleaning excessive residue before capping the product. It was becoming apparent that while competitor products were improving in quality, CO2 was offering no room for improvement, and this was also an expensive resource. 

With CO2 restricting progression, the company set out to identify an alternative solution and, with the help of Natural Fruit & Beverage Co sought advice from existing suppliers and peers in the industry to see what alternatives were available. After speaking to a number of experts, it was decided to follow up on the recommendation to use steam. 

Clarity on steam
Initial findings unearthed a common misconception around the use of steam in food processing and it was discovered that there is far more to understand than simply opting for one type of steam. This led to other questions around the potential contamination of the pipework, running the risk of affecting the consistency of the product. With this in mind, and with a degree of confusion surrounding which steam type would be best for their process, Natural Fruit and Beverage Co. spoke to upon steam specialist, Spirax Sarco for further guidance.

Initially, it was thought that the best solution would be to use a cost-effective filtration process. However, there is much confusion across the industry surrounding the difference between filtered and clean steam – which is exactly why clear guidance was needed. In this application quality was the first priority so the company was keen to get assurance from Spirax Sarco to give it confidence that the change would not result in any product inconsistency. 

A clean steam solution 
Spirax Sarco explained the various types of steam, the concept of clean steam as an ingredient and how it applies in relation to a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP). A team of specialist engineers explained that despite the food and drinks manufacturer having made use of filtered steam in the production process, consistency in taste, colour and quality of the end product could be achieved by choosing clean steam.  

Generating and using clean steam within a process means controlling feedwater quality at the source. Rather than relying on a filtration process to extract particulates, the production of clean steam utilises a secondary steam generator with the ability to control chemical-free feedwater quality. 

Based on this explanation, Natural Fruit & Beverage Co. went ahead and introduced an electric compact clean steam generator 50 kW (50 kg/hr at 3 bar) with preheating capability and the ability to control feedwater quality. 

Commenting on the service provided by Spirax Sarco, Walker said: “The Spirax Sarco team gave us the confidence and security that they knew the subject well enough to introduce a clean steam generator rather than filtered steam.”
Since installing the new solution, Spirax Sarco has supported the Natural Fruit & Beverage Co. with regular site visits which has helped the company to gain a better understanding of how their steam system.

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