Safety and quality — these are the two most important characteristics of food. By extension, they’re also the most important characteristics of food processing equipment.

As a manufacturer of progressing cavity and rotary lobe pumps, NETZSCH has been in the safety and quality game a long time. The company has carved out a niche by providing a range of products from FDA-compliant pumps for raw materials (e.g., fruits, vegetables, meat) to 3-A certified pumps for shear sensitive, high-risk foods (e.g., yogurt, liquid eggs).

To learn more about how NETZSCH helps food processors boost both the safety and quality of their products, we spoke with David Kirk, a 20+-year industry veteran who currently serves as the company’s business field manager for food and pharmaceutical.

Bringing equipment up to date for FSMA compliance

Like many of our interviewees, Kirk points to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) as the top challenge facing the industry right now. “Implementing FSMA is a big challenge because, in the past, processors were able to use legacy equipment that may not necessarily have been food grade,” he explains. “In certain industries, processors are still using cast iron and other non-FDA-compliant materials, and that will have to change to comply with the new rules.”

Kirk notes that it isn’t just human food processing that’s getting a food safety upgrade. Standards for pet food are catching up to standards for food for human consumption. “There’s a huge and growing market for pet food processing equipment that meets sanitary standards for human food,” he says.

It’s common for sanitary design to be equated with stainless steel. But this is a false equation, and one that leads to misunderstandings. As Cavanna Packaging VP Bill Kehrli explained to Food Business News, “Sanitary design is not necessarily making something out of stainless steel. Sanitary design doesn’t even require that you use stainless steel. It’s a whole new platform; it’s a whole new start from the very beginning.”

Taking this idea to heart, NETZSCH designed and developed elastomeric stators for their progressing cavity pumps. Like stainless steel equipment the stators are highly cleanable, meeting and exceeding food safety requirements. But they have an additional benefit: the elastomer also allows the pump to have an interference fit, which means that it can work at a very high efficiency, regardless of the viscosity of the product being pumped.

This is one of NETZSCH’s main competitive advantages in the market. “NETZSCH is one of the very few companies that actually manufactures its own stators,” Kirk says. “We have five materials that are food-grade and FDA-compliant, so we can select the perfect stator for every application depending on the abrasiveness, temperature, oils, etc.”

Gentle handling of shear sensitive products

There’s an added challenge for processors that make products like yogurt, dairy, and liquid eggs, which are at high risk for the growth of pathogens. Namely, these products are also shear sensitive, meaning their characteristics, integrity, and mouth feel change with increased force. This can be a problem for some pumping systems because too much force can damage the product.

Kirk notes that pumps used in these processes need to be not only highly cleanable (meaning there can be no nooks or crannies where pathogens can grow), but also gentle to handle these sensitive applications. What many people don’t realize, he says, is that progressing cavity pumps meet both of these requirements.

“A lot of people think that progressing cavity pumps are just for viscous products, so they view them as almost a pump of last resort,” he says. “But this isn’t the case. Progressing cavity pumps are actually the most gentle and shear sensitive technology available. In many cases, they should be a first resort, especially for handling abrasive products.”

Flexibility to meet the demands of today’s customers

Finally, Kirk emphasizes the need for processes to be more flexible than they’ve ever been before. “The market is becoming more consolidated, owned by fewer and fewer manufacturers, and these big food corporations need to be able to manufacture a large number of brands. So, they need the flexibility to do huge runs of some products and smaller runs of other products.”

Of course, they want to accomplish this with as little downtime as possible, which means changeovers need to be fast and easy. Once again, progressing cavity pumps stand out. “With the NETZSCH range of CIP-able pumps we can allay public health and product quality concerns by ensuring that both in production and sanitation the product integrity is upheld,” Kirk explains. “End users get a safe product and processors have a safe and quality product that maintains their brand reputation.”

NETZSCH will be at PROCESS EXPO 2019 demoing their cutting-edge pumping technology. To learn more about how progressing cavity pumps can boost food safety and quality in your plant, be sure to visit them in Booth #4065.