Because every hog is different, it follows that every pork belly has individual attributes, some of which pose challenges to bacon processors. Variances in breeds, carcass sizes, curing method, meat temperature and the type and thickness of slices are just a few of the factors contributing to the challenges to achieving the optimum product consumers crave.
Bacon slicing is not a one-size-fits-all technology because of a variety of reasons and expert insight into this critical production step is beneficial to all bacon processors.
In an interview with MEAT+POULTRY, engineers from Kansas City, Missouri-based Weber Inc. collaborated to provide answers to some common questions related to bacon slicing technology (For more information, go to www.weberslicer.com).
MEAT+POULTRY: How do varying sizes of bellies (based on breed and other factors) impact slicing speed, shingling, stacking, etc.?
Weber: Thinner bellies pose a challenge when trying to slice a true bacon stack due to the stability needed for the portion to stand up. Whereas, thicker bellies are easier to slice in the stack format. Thinner bellies will lead to thicker slices (within your acceptable slice thickness range) which may make shingle applications look slightly differently than bellies that are thicker.
M+P: We’ve profiled several processors of premium bacon products who pride themselves on not pressing their bellies. How does that impact slicing performance if at all?
Weber: Unpressed bellies tend to be wider than pressed bellies which means that they may require the larger throat capacity of a larger slicer.
M+P: Many premium brands are moving to 12-oz. vs. 16-oz. formats – does that change the slicing operations at all?
Weber: Yes, we can produce a 12-oz. portion at a higher, packages per minute, throughput capacity (approx. 25 percent) than a 16-oz. portion. Twelve-oz. portions have a higher on-weight percentage (typically 2 to 4 percent higher) than a 16-oz. portion.
M+P: How is slicing performance impacted when working with product that is uncured/not injected?
Weber: With uncured/non-injected bellies the slicing temperature range could change. Typically, we’ve seen that this type of product slices well at a slightly warmer temperature range.
M+P: How is slicing performance impacted by different types of packaging (stacked, shingled, layout) and how challenging is it to transition from one to the other?
Weber: With a layout portion we slice the fastest (RPMs and portions per minute) due to the portion stability and slice count. With a retail shingle portion, the slice counts are higher than a layout portion. With a stack pack portion, it offers the widest slicing temperature range although the application and product thickness becomes an important factor.
M+P: What are signs of improper slicing and what are some of the steps processors can take to avoid slicing-related hiccups?
Weber: If you are seeing half slices or thin slices it may be due to compromised control of the product. On the Weber 702 this is simply fixed by activating our idle cut knife head to ensure the accuracy of the slice thickness timing. “Trailing slices” is another common challenge. This can be due to slicing at very high speeds. This can be fixed with the right blade type.
M+P: Is there a target temperature for high-speed slicing of bellies and what are the negative results when that belly temperature is too high or too low?
Weber: The target temperature is dependent on the age and contents of the products. Some portioning results you may see if your temperature is too low include curling of the slices (typically they will have crystals in the product) or slipping of slices or the portion pulls apart during transport due to slices that are frozen. We can address these challenges with a shallower blade angle.
Some portioning results you may see if your temperature is too high include the slices may be influenced by the blade by being thrown or folded or there may be an increase in slicing debris. We can address these challenges with a broader blade angle
M+P: When it comes to slicing non-traditional bacon (pressed and formed turkey or cottage bacon), what do processors need to know to ensure efficiency, speed, consistency, etc.?
Weber: The consistency and rigidity of the product may work best on a radius load slicer to optimize the transport and handling of the products. The consistency of the product height and width should improve your weight control performance.