• August 16, 2018
  • Tim Wolstencroft
  • Blog

Minimising the damages to the food items during transport is the main goal in selecting food process pumps. Whether the items are tomatoes (relatively soft) or potatoes (relatively hard and tough), these food items should always be transported safely (and with proper handling) to prevent or minimise financial losses.

As a result, selecting pumps in this industry could be a lot more sensitive compared to other applications such as mine dewatering or farm irrigation. In food applications we have to pay special attention to the delivery volume and pressure of the water or fluid. Along with the fluid, the solid items should be pumped without bruising. Also, this transfer process should be accomplished without damaging the pump.

Consequences of wrong pump selection

Food handling is a delicate process from end to end. Any mishandling of the produce at any time of the day could result to thousands of dollars worth of damages and financial losses. Fruits and vegetables could be physically damaged if the water’s pressure, temperature and flow characteristics are unfavourable (which could be due to wrong pump specifications).

For example, fresh tomatoes should be gently transferred to the packing line. This accomplishment can greatly depend on the delivery volume and pressure of the water carrying the tomatoes. The pump’s intended delivery volume and pressure might also affect the work pace in the facility. Aside from potentially causing bruising and other physical damages to the tomatoes, prolonged stay of the produce in the water might alter the tomatoes’ chemical composition. It’s especially the case when the water temperature deviates a lot from the ambient temperature.

In other words, the rate at which the tomatoes are transferred into the packing line (which is affected by the pump’s specifications and settings) is a huge factor in the quality of the produce. High delivery volumes and pressures would make the tomatoes stay too long in the water (too many tomatoes in the water). On the other hand, low delivery volumes and pressures would slow down the work pace and perhaps expose the produce to pathogens and unfavourable environmental conditions due to the delayed packing.

The ideal condition is to achieve a just-in-time (JIT) delivery of the tomatoes into the packing line. Just enough tomatoes should be arriving so they could be packed immediately. It’s the same principle as in JIT manufacturing wherein parts and goods are being received only as they are needed in the production process. The result is reducing inventory costs and increasing the efficiency.

In this example of transferring tomatoes to the packing line (or any other succeeding processes such as for making sauce, ketchup and tomato paste), a JIT approach is good for improving efficiency and reducing the time the tomatoes are soaked in water or exposed to air. This also makes the whole process neat because almost everything is done right on time and with minimal waste.

Other food applications

Gently transferring the tomatoes to the packing line (and other processing facilities) also applies to other food items such as potatoes, carrots, peas, broccoli, cucumbers and beans. Even in items that go direct to packing such as fruits (including apples and oranges) require a delicate approach in transferring them. Bruising and other physical damages could result from harsh deliveries of the fruits through the line.

Transferring of live fish, shrimp, crayfish and other seafood may require additional precautions such as maintaining lower temperatures. In many cases slightly higher temperatures promote microbial and enzymatic actions that result to degradation of many food products.

Different food items might require different approaches and other additional measures. For instance (in most food items), the recirculation of the water accumulates dirt and pathogens. Raising the temperature levels (or other disinfection and sanitation measures) might be required to keep the water clean. Also, high accuracy rates in the incoming items should be maintained especially when it comes to adding ingredients to the key processes.

Aside from the delivery rate of the water or other fluids (which could depend on the pump’s pressure and other specifications), gentle pumping action also deserves special attention because physical damages to the produce should be minimised. Moreover, the delivery and pressure should be uniform (minimal number of peaks or minimum deviation from the normal pressure levels). Although the normal pressure levels are “gentle”, due to the peaks it’s possible that the system will compromise your products’ quality.

Due to the variety of the food products (including their sizes, shapes, nature, precautions when handling, sources), there’s also often a requirement for a diversity in pumping solutions. For instance, soft produce requires a more gentle approach (thereby lower flow rates and pressure). Although there are pumps with variable operating speeds, a safe range should always be established.

There’s also the concern about product contamination. All the pump’s parts should be of high integrity and strong construction so that almost no contaminants will be introduced into the water carrying the food items. The metallic parts should also resist corrosion because rust can compromise not just the food items but also the pump’s reliability.

Pumps with stainless steel construction are good options because they have a high corrosion resistance. It’s possible because of the development of thin layer or film (which is actually a corrosion product) that protects what’s underneath. Pumps and their parts could also be made from iron but a corrosion-resistant coating is often applied to protect the metal from oxygen and water.

Economic considerations: Balancing costs & outcomes

Engineering is always about achieving outcomes while using minimal resources (time, effort and cost). Upfront, the cost of the pump should justify its use and lifespan. In the long term, the running costs should be low enough (low energy or fuel consumption) so the operation stays profitable. Energy costs are rising every year and companies require energy-saving solutions in all their facilities.

Moreover, engineers also pay attention to the downtimes, maintenance costs and parts replacements. These should be minimised so there will be an uninterruptible operation. Each hour of downtime could result to thousands of dollars of lost income plus the production and delivery delays (which would make the client doubt the supplier’s reliability).

That’s why engineers are very careful in selecting a pump for their food processes. Each movement of an item from point A to point B can be a source of mishandling. It’s especially the case when using a pump and water to transfer food items. Wrong pump specifications can result to mishandling thereby compromising the quality of the products. This is a huge challenge because there are always cost constraints especially in the food supply chain. Engineers deal with this kind of challenges every day when it comes to achieving successful outcomes while controlling costs in the process.

How to select pumps for the food industry

It’s not a “one size fits all”. As mentioned earlier, there’s a wide variety of food items with widely varying sizes, shapes and nature. The way tomatoes are handled could be really different compared to potatoes’. Also, facilities may have varying capacities and succeeding processes.

As a result, many food processing facilities require customised solutions that fit their capacities and requirements. For instance, there are pumps that are more capable of handling large-size solids such as tomatoes and potatoes. Others might be more ideal for handling small-size solids such as cherries and beans.

Remember that the main goal is to prevent or minimise damage to the food items as they are being transferred from one area to the next. This is a crucial step in the whole supply chain. If there’s any kind of mishandling, the effects get magnified day after day (especially if you have a huge-scale operation).

That’s why here at Tru-Flo Pumps, we carefully select the appropriate pump for each application. For instance, we have already assisted several food facilities in selecting a solution that allows the food to pass through the pump and exit through the centre of the discharge nozzle while minimising contact with any pump nozzle. This then minimises abrasion and other physical damages to the food products.

Since 1992, we have already sold and serviced over 21,245 pumps. Our experienced engineers and technical staff will be able to provide you with an appropriate pump package – whether you have a small and full large scale operation in your plant. Contact us today and we’ll provide you with customised recommendations for your specific application.