Pet food manufacturers are trying to stay on top of more industry changes than ever—high-meat and alternative ingredient formulas, and meeting and exceeding increasingly detailed food safety regulations are just two of the challenges they’re facing. Fortunately, pet food extrusion specialists are stepping up to help manufacturers ensure their goals are met.
“We are definitely seeing more natural products being introduced to the market,” said Tom Barber, Bühler Aeroglide’s vice president of process engineering. “Products are being formulated with higher meat content, fewer ingredients and alternative plant protein sources.” As pet food manufacturers reformulate their products, extrusion experts are helping them make processing adjustments needed for different drying characteristics.
“From a drying standpoint, high-meat content product is more difficult to dry,” said Barber. “They typically require longer retention times. When new formulations change product drying characteristics, customers with existing dryers may see decreases in production rates on this product. There are things that can be done to boost production, but the relationship between energy-efficient drying and throughput can become more complex. Customers want to safely manage the amount of moisture in the dryer to eliminate condensation and be as efficient as possible.”
Coperion K-Tron has also stepped up to the challenge of high-meat and alternative ingredient products, including improvements in cooling die technologies (particularly for the high-moisture texturized proteins used in wet and canned pet foods) and feeder technologies. “[The feeder technology] improvements focus specifically on difficult to feed additives which may be very light in bulk density, or cohesive with capabilities to cause bridging in the feeder hopper,” said Sharon Nowak, business development manager for Coperion K-Tron, and Ed Beecher, senior sales and process engineer for Coperion.
For example, the company has introduced the Coperion K-Tron ActiFlow, a real-time vibration device tied directly into the feeder’s loss-in-weight signal. If the feeder experiences a bridge or rat-hole and little or no material is being sent to the screws, the ActiFlow vibration is activated and the bridge breaks. After the weight signal is stable again, the vibration is deactivated.
Courtesy Coperion K-Tron
Coperion K-Tron’s LIW feeder with ActiFlow is uniquely designed for difficult flow materials.
Wenger has developed a system specifically designed to handle novel sources of meat protein, which are often available in wet form rather than in a dried or meal form. "Wenger developed the thermal twin screw extrusion system to allow the production of pet foods with all or most of the protein coming from meat," said Galen Rokey, director of process technology for Wenger's companion animal division. "The result is a whole new line of pet foods with higher protein digestibility, preservation of process-sensitive micro-nutrients and greater marketing appeal."
Increasingly high levels of meat inclusions in pet food diets have driven new drying process designs.
Food safety has always been a primary concern of pet food manufacturers, but implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) has brought current standards to the forefront. “The FSMA and the industry in general have prompted us to begin a new engineering phase,” said Barber. “We are working closely with pet food producers to understand their needs as we develop the next generation pet food dryer. We are asking very specific questions, not just about their needs, but about the demands of their customers.”
According to Barber, producers need processing support that addresses specific food manufacturing needs, from the cleaning of machinery to the drying effects on nutritional profiles. To meet this need, Bühler Aeroglide has increased its applications support team with the addition of food technologists and microbiologists to provide guidance on equipment design and its effect on processing and food safety. “Manufacturers have also asked for help with hazard analysis and critical control point plans that are required by the FSMA for certifications,” he said. “These systematic preventive approaches consider the biological, chemical and physical hazards in food processes that can cause a finished product to be unsafe.”
Sanitation solutions are a key focus for extrusion specialists. For example, Ever Extruder’s Sanitation Startup Discharge System (SSDS) and integrated flow valve provide the producers of pet food, fish feed and animal feed with a more sanitary and safe extrusion process, according to the company. During extruder startup, product not yet to temperature is released through the SSDS discharge prior to reaching the die assembly, preventing raw material from coming in contact with the die, cutting system and product takeaway components, maintaining sanitary and clean throughput when the extruder comes up to temperature. The SSDS and flow valve system are designed to be quickly installed, removed and cleaned, and its compact overall design does not interfere with take-away or conveyance systems.
Courtesy Ever Extruder
Ever Extruder’s Sanitation Startup Discharge System (SSDS) readily installs on single screw extruders.
Geelen Counterflow offers the sanitary design counterflow cooler MkIII, designed to facilitate fast and effective cleaning. “After the high-temperature environments of conditioner, extruder and dryer, dry pet food enters the zone of coaters and coolers where temperatures are reduced step by step to around ambient temperature,” said Sander Geelen, managing director of Geelen Counterflow. “It is here that product runs the highest risk of re-contamination with micro-organisms.” The MkIII has been designed without any hollow spaces where fines or fluids could accumulate, and is constructed completely in stainless steel.
Courtesy Geelen Counterflow
Geelen Counterflow’s latest model of pet food dryer, the batch dryer MkIII, provides a versatile drying solution for the wide range of products that pet food producers want to run on their extrusion line.
“It is imperative [for pet food manufacturers] to evaluate the system and supplier who can not only provide the complete integrated system to ensure end product quality, but can also provide expertise and engineered designs which emphasize food safety according to the latest regulations and cleanability in design,” said Nowak and Beecher. “The ability to minimize any risk of contamination, as well as minimize downtime for cleaning and product changeover by including proper design techniques in the extruder and material handling equipment can make a huge difference in the process, product safety and overall process efficiency.”
As the pet food industry continues to evolve, efficiency and attention will be vital to ensuring that innovative, safe pet foods continue to find their way on to pet store shelves—and into consumers’ hands. "The key to reacting and coming on line with new processes is speed," said Rokey. "Quicker recognition of a need, faster development of a solution to meet that need, efficient manufacturing and installation of the resulting process equipment, and shorter start-up time to commercial production."
Extrusion education and research in the pet food industry
Bühler Aeroglide’s food safety team is involved in One Voice, a solutions group comprised of equipment manufacturers and processors working to advance the hygienic design of equipment for low moisture foods. Company Food Safety Manager Steve Blackowiak is working with the industry to explain how established collaboration parameters can be used to assess risks related to low-moisture foods, cleaning methods for both wet and dry, as well as the surface type for both food contact and non-food contact areas. He’s also promoting collaboration—partnering with companies like Big Heart—to show how original equipment manufacturers and consumer packaged goods companies can achieve results by adopting new guidelines that offer a uniform approach to non-proprietary sanitary equipment designs that meet a base food safety requirement.
One Voice for Hygienic Equipment Design for Low-moisture Food: www.opxleadership.org
Coperion and Coperion K-Tron
In order to assist in bringing the newest technologies and innovations to pet food manufacturing customers, Coperion and Coperion K-Tron are planning a technical hands-on seminar in the US in 2016 which outlines in detail the extrusion and material handling of high-moisture meat substitutes in pet food manufacturing. This in depth seminar will include the same technical program as one recently held in Germany in 2015 in conjunction with the DIL – German Institute of Food Technologies. It will discuss and demonstrate many of the innovative technologies outlined above. The seminar in Germany was a great success, according to organizers, having attendees from various European and Asian countries discussing extrusion and meat analogues, in particular.
Extru-Tech is involved in 1 Solution Group, a technical assistance firm that offers food and feed research and development, process design and layout, and business management services. The group's team brings 120 years of experience in the pet food and feed industries, and focuses exclusively on those two segments of industry. "The level of focus brings unparalleled insight, knowledge and practical experience to each project and an ability to deliver solutions that improve performance while lowering costs," says the group.
The latest on pet food extrusion