Regardless of why meat and poultry processors inject products, the bottom line is incorporating this process results in a better-tasting and eating product. Hormel Always Tender pork and beef products, for example, are all pre-marinated “for superb tenderness, juiciness, and flavor.” Seaboard Farms’ Guymon, Okla. 600,000 sq. ft. pork processing plant uses a relatively new process for one of its products branded PrairieFresh Prime.
“We take lean pork protein and fat and infuse it into pork-loin products,” according to Marty Hast, vice president of plant operations. “It adds more flavor and juiciness to the products. The industry has gone from having heavily marbled product years ago to much leaner genetics. With lean hogs, you sometimes have pork products that can be dry and tough if not cooked properly.”
Many customers of Wolf-tec Inc., Kingston, N.Y., inject meat and poultry products to enhance the overall eating experience of the products, says Chris Mason, vice president of sales and marketing. “More and more we see meal preparation times being reduced by the consumers often leading to harsh cooking methods,” he adds.
Marination can help in this area by adding additional moisture to ensure the product remains moist and appealing, Mason says. "Many customers also marinate to increase product yields, allowing quality products to meet challenging price points,” he adds. "We also see growing awareness and focus on food safety, and the addition of anti-microbial ingredients into the marination process can improve the shelf-life and significantly reduce the risks.”
Several basic parameters affect the performance of injecting equipment. Variation in product dimensions within a batch will certainly impact injection accuracy, as will muscle type. “Many processors will either accept a wider variation in the output or look to grade some of the significantly different product sizes prior to processing,” Mason says.
The latest generation of IMAX injectors feature recipe controls that allow many of the parameters to be stored in the machine’s memory for simple recall during production, Mason says. “This will allow operators to create multiple programs that can be accessed as the production needs change thus minimizing downtime,” he adds. “IMAX injectors can also feature cleaning cycles to allow automatic rinsing between different species to speed up product changeovers.”
All of the pre-mentioned reasons are important to processors regarding the injection process, agrees David Enders, technical sales manager, Nu-Meat Technology Inc., South Plainfield, N.J.
More processors are processing a wider range of whole-muscle meat and poultry products in various product sizes. When asked what injecting challenge this presents to processors requiring fast changeover from product to product on a daily basis, Enders answers: “If product sizes are also being referred to as ‘from product to product,’ then size grading is important for close piece-to-piece standard deviation. In addition, only one primal type should be injected at once, as the injector settings are rarely the same for more than one primal. Other factors include fat level, as well as other basic injector operational procedures, such as belt loading and placement.”
Proper scheduling is key for processors to minimize downtime when injecting a number of different proteins of different sizes on a daily basis, Enders concludes.
Yields are the primary reason product is injected, says Noah Hall, food technologist and application specialist, Koch Equipment LLC, Kansas City, Mo. “The ability to inject and hold moisture in the product and then use that to increase profit margins is a key tool in the industry that has had some challenging times,” he adds.
Increasing shelf-life is also a key driver, Hall says. “Food safety has continually come to the forefront of the meat industry and being able to produce a safe product with a durable shelf-life is simply good for business,” Hall adds.
Koch is seeing increased interest among processors hoping to utilize trim in the injection process. This can help alleviate the problem many processors have with finding an outlet source for their production trim, Hall says. “Using a formulation with the right amount of protein in the brine emulsion allows producers to route trim internally or extend pump percentages without sacrificing protein content,” he adds.
Cleaning, versatility of the equipment and brine formulation changes are all challenges processors must address for quick changeovers in “on-thefly” production applications, Hall says. “Using equipment that is extremely accessible for cleaning is especially critical for processors that switch between species during daily production,” he adds.
Today’s brines are more complex with multiple ingredients and additives, Hall states. “Additives, such as soy proteins and a variety of starches, which result in better holding and binding, can also have a negative effect and create problems, such as clogged needles resulting in additional pressure on the pump,” he adds.
Features on equipment like removable injection heads reduce time spent cleaning and allow operators to move to the next stage of production, Hall says. “Of course, we always recommend referencing your owner’s manual for proper cleaning instructions and maintaining the equipment,” he adds. “Following the manufacturer recommendations will help minimize downtime, as well.”
Versatile equipment can make the process easier, Hall says. Injectors have to be able to handle different types of products and pump percentages. “Our offering consists of injectors that feature several different options to try and satisfy this demand,” he adds. “Features such as touch-screen control that store multiple product programs not only ensure quick changeover but [also] produce consistent results,” he adds. “Other options, such as a multiple-head configurations for high pump applications, enable product to be double-pumped in a single pass.”
Koch also sees a lot of interest in brine mixing applications. By mixing brine in a separate location from the injector and holding tank, the changeover in brine formulation is a matter of transferring it from one tank to another, he says. This is essential for producers going through large amounts of brine continuously or who have a relatively small capacity for holding compared to their injection rate. To minimize downtime when required to inject a number of different proteins of different sizes on a daily basis, Hall says processors should determine where their bottlenecks are in the changeover. “The automated controls for injectors can get you back to your previous production on that product,” he adds. “The ability to change-out some parts of equipment that require more intensive cleaning is good for changing between species. Brine-mixing stations can be really useful if you feel that a good portion of your changeover is spent in the brine preparation. Find equipment with a wide range of options you feel will minimize downtime and speed the changeover process.”
Delivering consistent quality
Customers use Reiser-Fomaco injectors to enhance flavor, provide a moist bite, improve shelf-life and to increase yields, says Dave Howard, regional sales manager with Reiser, based in Canton, Mass. “Once the processor has perfected a marinade recipe, it becomes the job of the injector to deliver the formula consistently from batch to batch, day after day,” he adds.
Reiser-Fomaco accomplishes this through three unique features, Howard says:
• An FM80 self-cleaning filter prevents the fine holes in the needle from being blocked, even after hours of production, ensuring consistent distribution of the marinade. Reiser-Fomaco does not rely on an operator to stop and manually remove a filter for cleaning.
• Individual stripper feet – The stripper foot or plate in the injection process removes product from the needles. Reiser-Fomaco utilizes a number of small individual stripper feet to not only remove the product after injection but to control the product during injection regardless of shape or size. This gives the best possible needle pattern resulting in the most consistent method of injection, Howard says.
• “Pump-to-pipe” marinade delivery – Reiser-Fomaco pumps marinade through pipes of ever decreasing diameters to allow for a very accurate flow pressure. This eliminates the need for a manifold delivery system, which requires frequent disassembly to remove settled debris.
Minimizing set-up and clean-up time is critical, especially for Reiser’s customers who process a wide variety of products on a daily basis. The Reiser-Fomaco injector is self-draining by virtue of the pump position, Howard says. “The pump and the entire brine system are easy to take apart,” he adds. “Joints are mounted with fittings accessible outside the inner cabinet of the machine.”
To minimize downtime when injecting different proteins of different sizes on a daily basis, needles can be dismantled and fitted quick and easy without the use of tools, Howard says. “The conveyor comes equipped with a quick-release system and can be pulled out again without the use of tools,” he adds. “Our touch-screen PLC allows the processor to store many different pre-established settings for all their products.”
Enhancing flavor, juiciness
Injection or enhancement is about creating an attractive flavor profile and juicy texture, says Kieth Naivar, PMD (Preparation, Marination and Defrosting) application specialist, CFS North America Inc., Frisco, Texas. “This helps to create a more consistent and desirable product,” he adds. “Some suppliers also use this opportunity to inject microbial inhibitors to extend shelf-life.”
Frequent product changes require an injector with flexible set-up options that are easily changed from the touch-screen panel and can be stored as recipes for different product families, Naivar says. “Adjustable parameters include pressure, speed, conveyor advance, needle density pattern and stroke height,” he adds. “Needle changes should be performed using an easily removable manifold.”
Several strategies can minimize changeover downtime, Naivar says. “Schedule allergen-containing products for the end of the day to minimize required cleaning, prepare and chill brines in advance using multiple smaller holding tanks with chilling jackets and agitators, plumb a high-flow cold water line to the injector saddle tank to quickly fill with fresh clean-inplace water, have an extra set of filter elements on-hand to quickly replace dirty filters, save product recipes on the PLC to quickly load initial settings – and remember well-trained operators are as critical as well-maintained machinery,” he concludes.