Pressing issues: Taking a closer look at the process of 'squaring up' pork bellies

by MEAT+POULTRY Staff
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 Hoegger's bacon press machines
Hoegger Food Technology Inc. is a leading supplier of bacon press technology and in-package cook/chill pasteurizing systems.
 

For bacon processors of all sizes, maximizing yields and ensuring consistent quality is always a priority. Bacon presses play an important role in transforming bellies into slabs. This step in the process has become more refined in recent years as equipment has become more sophisticated and understanding of how other factors influence bacon pressing.

With US operations based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Hoegger Food Technology Inc. is a leading supplier of bacon press technology in addition to engineering meat form presses designed to ensure optimum yields in products such as case-ready meats, Philly steak and dried meat products. Hoegger also engineers and manufactures in-package cook/chill pasteurizing systems to extend the shelf life of vacuum packed meat products.

Hoegger’s vice president, Mike Collins, is a bacon-processing expert who recently addressed the role of pressing bellies into uniform slabs.

Bacon Business News: As bacon-mania and the demand for bacon has surged, what are some of the trends you have observed in the bacon processing segment?

Mike Collins: The need for speed and yield are always driving forces in this industry. However, I feel the processor of today is looking at the belly in a much different way with the goal of: “Let’s get the best out of the belly and not waste time”; and to increase throughput on all ‘No. 1’ product — whether it is ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat. By focusing on a consistent “No. 1” product and increased throughput, automation falls into line.

BBN: How has bacon pressing technology evolved over the years? What are some of the biggest differences in the engineering today vs. 10 years ago?

Collins: Ten years ago, we delivered our first successful fully automatic machine with a very early stage of dynamic pressing. This start-up allowed us to learn that we had to keep pushing forward with more development as the bellies simply continue to be different. We are on our sixth version of dynamic software — each version has allowed us to provide better yield gains to our customers. Today’s machines are built to UL design and to a very high level of sanitation.

BBN: How variable are the needs of processors when it comes to pressing bellies? Is it a one-technology-fits-all proposition?

Collins: You would think all bellies would be pressed alike — we would not be here if this was the case. For starters you have several weight classes and some of the smaller weight classes use completely different pressure and control settings than heavier bellies. Bellies for ready-to-cook bacon will be pressed differently than ready-to-eat. Bellies with different smoked temperatures are also pressed differently. Bellies might be pressed differently if they are stored before slicing or sliced immediately after the press.

BBN: What role does belly temperature play in achieving optimum pressing results?

Collins: Temperature is key for sure. If you are pressing to a tote for storage, you might press 1-2 degrees colder. If you are pressing directly to a new high speed slicer, the ideal temperature is approximately 26° F. This means we like to see the bellies begin pressing at 25.5° to 26° F. The press then feeds the slicer automatically.

 

Pressed pork belly
The money is in the meat and all bacon processors are concerned about yield, Collins says.
 


BBN: How flexible are bacon presses in terms of accommodating various belly sizes?

Collins: Dynamic Software, modern Hydraulic Skid and the Flexible Die Sets were developed by Hoegger to efficiently deal with the various belly sizes and to match the package size. As with the package, there is variation and a certain window to hit. Of course, there are bellies today that are simply too big to fit into a 10-inch package. The goal is to do as little damage to each belly as possible to yield the very best on every belly.

BBN: What are the ranges of speeds Hoegger presses can handle?

Collins: We have manual fed machines running between 9-10 bellies per minute. We also have fully automatic machines running 13-14 bellies per minute in press rooms. We also have applications where several presses feed multiple slicers automatically.

BBN: Are bacon presses only for high volume operations or are there models designed for smaller processors doing craft bacon?

Collins: Big or small, the money is in the meat and everybody is concerned about yield. Bellies are bellies and the producers of craft bacon see the importance of pressing. A better pressed belly will slice better, yield better, help produce a cleaner draft, which in turn can help automate the loading into the package.

BBN: What are some of the key maintenance issues inherent in high volume bacon pressing operations?

Collins: When the bacon business is as busy as it is, it becomes difficult for the producers to find time to upkeep their machines. Time runs away from them. We understand this and we are working close with the maintenance departments to stay on top of important service visits to maintain a high machines up- time. We have developed software to predict important service interventions months in advance.

BBN: How is sanitary design built into Hoegger equipment?

Collins: We take this topic very seriously and continue to refine our design constantly. The press chamber might look similar to 10 years ago — however we now are using floating stainless steel blocks to assist in cleaning. We watch our flat-to-flat surfaces and all of our feeding systems are built with non-hollow tubes. We started with the NAMI Standards and now we are moving up from there.

See how Hoegger’s bacon press technology can integrate with a production line that includes Weber high-speed slicing technology and Multivac packaging innovations.

 

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