Food waste is a significant concern on many food production lines, and it makes sense. Food waste is a direct hit on your bottom-line profitability. It’s raw material you paid for but didn’t get to use—and that may now cost you even more in added waste disposal fees.
How can food manufacturers reduce food waste on processing lines and deliver more product to customers?
By optimizing operations, prioritizing employee training, creating and maintaining automated processes, and upgrading to advanced tools such as ERP software and cryogenic freezing and chilling solutions to preserve food longer.
We’ll unpack each of these strategies in greater detail as we explore 4 ways to reduce food waste during food processing.
1. Optimize your supply chain—preferably with ERP software
Supply chains are complex, full of moving parts and connected to external vendors and customers. As such, supply chains offer several points at which food waste can occur—and provide the perfect example of why ERP software is essential in today’s production plants.
Also known as an Enterprise Resource Planning system, ERP software essentially collects, centralizes, and connects the data points across your company’s relevant systems. This enables deeper analysis and optimization, so you can more easily and accurately track deliveries and shelf life, manage inventory and ordering, and avert both shortages and overstocking of raw materials (among many other functions). It also makes the remaining actions in this section much more precise and efficient.
Whether you use ERP software or not, a helpful first step in optimizing your supply chain and maximizing food preservation is to survey your storage capabilities. It’s possible that obtaining perishable ingredients via smaller, but more frequent deliveries would reduce spoilage-related waste enough to offset any additional delivery costs.
Moving on, take a hard look to see if you can improve your forecasting models. Modern forecasting includes tracking everything from holidays and consumer trends to weather and even social media. If imprecise forecasting overestimates customer demand and causes you to purchase more raw materials than you end up needing, those excess resources will likely end up as waste.
It’s also a good idea to examine your delivery chain for ways to get your product into your customers’ hands sooner. While this obviously won’t reduce food waste on your production line, it does give customers more time with the product before it reaches its expiration date. This, in turn, makes that product less likely to end up unused in a landfill and can result in increased orders and reduced charge-back loss.
2. Prioritize training and standardization
A 2019 study at Brunel University London and Ghent University examined 47 food processors and determined that human error accounted for nearly 11 percent of all food processing waste.
What were the main causes for this waste? Inadequate training and a lack of standardized work procedures. These two shortcomings often resulted in production errors and wasted food.
Granted, training requires an investment of time and money. But according to the Brunel/Ghent study, those costs can be outweighed by the benefits that come from having a capable, properly trained workforce operating under clear, standardized protocols.
3. Automate and maintain processes
For particularly inefficient and/or error-prone processes, switching to an automated solution may be a highly effective way to decrease food waste. Automated processes are often more consistent, reliable, and replicable, and they can deliver higher throughput with fewer errors.
Also, keep in mind that even the most “set it and forget it” automated systems will require regular maintenance, tuning, and upkeep. Ongoing maintenance must be a priority. It may only take one minor failure or glitch for a line to go out of sync and begin cranking out product that is overcooked, undercooked, or otherwise out of specification. That can lead to large amounts of product reworking, downgrading, and even disposal, which wastes food and costs you time, resources, and money.
Another often overlooked factor is power grid performance. Even slight power disruptions can have a ripple effect on production lines, causing products to be overcooked, undercooked, mishandled, improperly refrigerated, or otherwise spoiled. Voltage drops and low power quality can interrupt proper machine function, corrupt data and settings, and even damage equipment outright. It’s worth taking steps to safeguard the quality and reliability of your power grid.
Updating mechanical handling methods to make product transfers more secure can also help reduce waste. While the automated systems of yesteryear tended to damage delicate products such as fruits and baked goods, those days are long gone. With components that often include cutting-edge conveyors from the experts at Cambridge or Ashworth, and Messer’s own cryo freezers and/or chillers, today’s automated solutions are as deft as human hands—but often even faster—and can handle fragile products with care
Cryogenic freezers offer some of the most promising and future-proof ways to reduce food waste and upgrade mechanical handling. In fact, cryogenic solutions are so varied and versatile that they warrant a deeper dive, which we’ll cover next.
4. Upgrade to cryogenic freezing and chilling solutions
Keeping food cold or frozen can play a huge role in preventing waste by extending a product’s shelf life or by maintaining specific temperature profiles during processing. Lower temperatures also help to ensure product quality, food safety, and consistency.
What’s more, cryogenic freezing and chilling systems are a precise, space-efficient, and expedient way to control temperature throughout the entire chilling/freezing production process. Getting product to the appropriate chilled or frozen temperature quickly is critical for reducing bacteria counts and extending shelf life.
What is cryogenic freezing and chilling? It’s a method of using precision applications of carbon dioxide (CO2) or nitrogen (LIN) for direct cooling. It’s widely used, cost-effective, and incredibly efficient.
How can you use cryogenic freezing/chilling to reduce food waste? The specific opportunities depend upon your production process, but possible applications include:
- During transfers from oven to freezer, cryogenic crust freezers located immediately post cooking can stabilize the product, reducing the incidence of misshapen product.
- Poor forming operations can cause rework and lost product further down the process chain. Chilling with bottom-injection mixers can ensure ingredients reach optimal temperatures exiting blending operations, enabling a consistently better-formed product and lessening the need for rework.
- Yield loss is a typical concern for meat and poultry producers. Whether it’s marinade dripping to the floor or product evaporative losses escaping, that’s moisture (and weight) you’d rather retain in your product. Cryogenic freezers such as Messer’s Impingement Tunnel, Wave Impingement, and Immersion systems can seal in pickup weight, enabling you to utilize ingredients more efficiently and potentially even reduce cut sizes. Quick freezing with cryogens locks in moisture, improving the product’s taste and quality. You can deliver the same high-quality (or higher) product at a lower cost and with less waste.
- Ensuring a long product shelf life improves the chances a consumer will purchase the product before its expiration date. Cryogenic chilling to ensure precise temperature control during process, or cryogenic freezing the end product can both contribute to improved shelf life. As stated above, quick freezing with cryogens can extend a product’s shelf life by quickly limiting bacteria growth while locking in moisture, improving the product’s taste and quality compared to other freezing methods.
- Shipping purge loss can drain 3-8 percent of the protein-infused liquid from your poultry—and force you to absorb the resulting purge charge for the lost weight. Fortunately, cryogenic crust chilling can stabilize your product, retaining its moisture, staving off rigor mortis, and making it more manageable for pressing or further processing. This is especially critical for portioning and cutting operations, as a colder, firmer product enables more accurate cuts, increased primal versus trim ratio, and lower final cut temperature. The end result is increased product yield, quality, and consistency.
- Few things are as discouraging as taking your product through the entire production process, only to find during packaging operations there are product marriages, high or low package weights, or product jams due to poor IQF (individual quick freezing). However, an IQF quick-crusting cryogenic freezer like the Messer Wave Impingement can minimize these glitches, greatly improving IQF quality while also retaining yield, reducing rework, and curtailing food waste from failed reworks.
If all this talk about cryogenic freezers and chillers sounds a bit interesting, we encourage you to contact the Messer team for advice and/or a complimentary production process assessment. We have decades of industry-leading experience. Let’s assess your facility and processes together—and set you on the path toward retaining more yield, producing higher quality IQF, and increasing profit by decreasing food waste.