Cutting corners in the food processing industry can lead to inconsistency in outcomes. On the surface, food processing may seem like simply a big kitchen in which ingredients are measured and mixed, after which – depending on the application – they’re often baked or cooked into a final product. Yet in many ways, this sector is like any other where materials are broken down to realize the benefits of size reduction. In food processing, as in every other industry that utilizes these methods, particle size reduction makes production easier and serves to augment product quality. Additionally, size reduction helps manufacturers adhere to regulations that keep their products safe.

Particle size distribution is especially important when it comes to manufacturing foods and beverages, as it affects how easily a product can be conveyed or how well it dissolves, not to mention how particle size affects taste and texture. To realize the benefits of size reduction in food processing, however, it’s critical to use the right equipment. By understanding the relationship of particle size to food products, manufacturers can make wiser choices in what processing equipment they use for an application.  

How Size Reduction Benefits Food Processing

The benefits of size reduction in food processing can be better understood by understanding the principles behind these practices and how they augment the quality of the final product. This includes looking at scientific principles behind the equipment used in material handling, which at its core involves physics. The science behind material handling in the food processing sector looks at how mechanical forces that result in cutting or grinding can be applied to food particles to reduce them to produce a better product.

These forces stress the material, causing it to fracture and allowing particles to form additional surfaces that then affect food texture. The food manufacturing sector also deals with an array of ingredients that come in the form of emulsions, powders or suspensions. It’s necessary to understand key traits of these ingredients during processing as well, including how they break down. Food processing equipment also helps determine the coarseness or fineness of products, going beyond the benefits of size reduction. In food processing applications, the methods used in turn affect the efficiency of production.

Benefits of size reduction in the food processing affect product: 

  • Flowability: How food products are mixed or otherwise integrated into a food product depends on the bulk density of the material, especially when it relates to the viscosity of suspensions and density of bulk powders, along with how their particles interact with each other and size reduction equipment. 
  • Stability: When particle sizes in emulsions like milk become uncontrolled or inaccurate, it can lead to destabilization of the product; additionally, such lack of stability can also result in caking with powdered foods.
  • Texture: Particles at the micron level can be detected by the human tongue; particle size that’s overly large or small can distort mouthfeel, which in turn can affect taste perception.

Optimizing production is one of the key benefits of size reduction. In food processing applications, particle size reduction increases operational efficiency by decreasing energy consumption and processing times. Essentially, the smaller the ingredient particles, the quicker and more efficient a facility’s operations will be. Additionally, size reduction methods that produce finer ingredients cut down on food waste, maximizing yield while minimizing product losses. 

Use of Modern Food Processing Equipment 

The key to large-scale production of ingredients for foods and beverages is modern food processing equipment, which in turn produces the primary benefits of size reduction. In food processing, reduction equipment comes in all sorts of sizes and dimensions. These include various mills, grinders, choppers and other machinery to reduce particle size.

Typical food processing equipment includes:

  • Blenders beat, knead and whip ingredients together into smoothly textured pastes or purees. 
  • Classifier Mills are often used in the production of fibrous food material like bran, gelatin, salt, spices or soybeans, often using pneumatic methods that also assist with conveying.
  • Crushers process heavier items like whole melons, using gravity to feed ingredients into a milling chute, past which they’re set up for further processing.
  • Fine Grinding Mills use high-speed impact, along with shear forces, to break down various foods like bran, corn meal, flour, seeds, sugar or soy products.
  • Gravity-fed Mills feature large inlets to accept a variety of ingredients, such as apples, carrots or meats.
  • Grinders break down particles of food into smaller sizes by pulverizing ingredients using mechanical forces.
  • Hammer Mills uses the impact of high-speed hammers to break down coarse food products like barley, fruits for juices, powdered drinks and soybeans.
  • Mills like ball mills, hammer mills and roller mills can crush, grind and shear material to mechanically reduce particles of either wet or dry ingredients.
  • Mixers chop, crush and puree ingredients into an amalgamated mixture.
  • Pump-fed Mills reduce agglomerated and oversized materials within pumped fluids; these mills can process liquids as thick as tomato paste and as thin as water.  
  • Rotary Airlock are often used in food processing systems to handle dry, free-flowing powdered food and ingredients like baking soda, cocoa, grits, peanuts, powdered milk, sugars or wheat bran.
  • Rotary Sifters, also known as centrifugal sifters, are designed for high-capacity scalping and sifting operations for foods like bakery mixes, cocoa powder, dehydrated vegetables, instant coffee and yeast for bread.
  • Screw-fed Mills work well for dried fruit, leafy vegetables and other bulky ingredients that aren’t easily processed by gravity-fed mills.
  • Shredders are used mostly for milling cheese and toppings for pizzas and can handle significant throughputs of ingredients as well. 

The benefits of size reduction in food processing equipment also extend to two other types of machinery, extruders and homogenizers. Extruders not only reduce particle size but also are used for creating distinctive shapes and textures. Used to produce cereals or snacks, they force the material through a small aperture that expands and shapes the product. Homogenizers are used in the dairy sector to break down fat particles in milk to make a smoother product. These specialized machines help ensure a consistent texture and are often used in the production of dairy cream, ice cream and milk.

Benefits for Food Processing Applications 

The benefits of size reduction in food processing applications enable manufacturers to improve flavor and texture as well as optimize production. Different particle size reduction techniques are used for various food processing applications. These various techniques are used by industrial bakeries, meat processing facilities and beverage manufacturers, though they’re used in many other food processing applications as well.

Benefits for Industrial Bakeries

In industrial bakeries, achieving the desired uniformity in dough texture is one of the many benefits of size reduction. In food processing facilities that make baked goods, reducing the particle size of flour, sugar, yeast and other dry ingredients ensures their proper distribution throughout a mixture. Well-mixed dough or batter bakes more consistently, producing a final product with a more pleasing consistency and structure. Finely ground ingredients produce baked goods that are more attractive, with smoother textures that cater to customers’ mouthfeel, which make for a more pleasant experience when consuming them. Additionally, smaller particles augment hydration, retaining moisture to make products more tender.

Benefits for Meat Processing Facilities

In the meat processing industry, methods for reducing particle size are used for making various types of ground beef, sausages and other ground meat products. Often this involves chopping or grinding to decrease cooking time, enhance texture and intensify flavors, including through blending in other ingredients like herbs, spices and other seasonings. Additionally, processing makes meat products safer, as smaller meat particles offer a greater surface area that allows for more thorough cooking. This in turn reduces the chance of disease from bacteria, viruses and other pathogens.

Benefits for Beverage Manufacturing

When producing beverages, size reduction is used to extract flavors from ingredients like fruits, herbs, spices or other flavorings. Used to make flavored water, infused drinks, juices, sodas, teas and other beverages, smaller particle sizes provide more surface area to provide a drink with a more robust flavor. This is also true for powdered drink mixes like instant coffee or cocoa, which require finely ground ingredients to dissolve in water to create a consistent taste. Finely ground ingredients also provide drinks with more pleasing aromas as well.

Benefits for Product Quality

Reducing particle size improves the quality of food and beverages, as has already been intimated. Regardless of the type of food or drink, however, improved product quality is one of the main benefits of size reduction in food processing. Uniformly distributed ingredients enhance taste and texture, enabling manufacturers to make food products consistently taste the same regardless off the batch. Particle size reduction additionally aids the extension of shelf life for many foods. With more surface area on smaller particles, moisture evaporates and fats oxidize more quickly, which results in a product that remains fresher longer.

As is the case in the pharmaceutical industry with active ingredients in medicines, nutrients within food products are more easily released and absorbed by the body when the material is made up of smaller particles. Smaller particles also mean a greater surface area, which enhances bioavailability and nutrient absorption. Not only does this make for more nutritious foods, but one of the benefits of particle size reduction in food processing involves consumers experiencing greater enjoyment when consuming foods. More finely textured foods are easier to eat as well, particularly for those with dental or other oral issues. 

Benefits for Food Safety & Compliance

Particle size also affects food safety. Regulatory requirements are particularly rigorous concerning food processing facilities. Additionally, there are food products that require processing techniques for religious reasons, such as the case with regulations regarding Halal or Kosher foods. Properly sizing particles for food processing applications requires consistency regarding the cleanliness of the equipment and the safety of the final product. Due to the high standards involved in food processing, some food manufacturers use seasoned toll processors who have extensive knowledge of regulatory requirements and experience with following safety standards in the industry.

Using Prater Equipment for Size Reduction

Prater Industries has been producing material handling machinery for nearly a century, and just about every piece of equipment made by the company processes – or can be customized to process – various foods or ingredients for food. Prater’s material handling solutions include durable and reliable machinery that provides the food processing sector with all the benefits of particle reduction. In the food processing industry, Prater’s expertise is sought after for both individual machines and whole systems, while serving a clientele that includes everything from huge international corporate entities to smaller regional operators. To learn more about our food processing equipment and systems, contact the material handling experts at Prater today.