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Article | September 30, 2003
VBS Industries: Protecting peanut shelf life
To bring its peanut-packaging business in-house, Southwest Specialty Food needed one key piece of equipment: a liquid nitrogen dosing system to minimize oxygen in the package’s headspace.
When Southwest Specialty Food the world’s largest producer of habanero pepper-flavored foods introduced its habanero pepper-flavored Ass Kickin’ Peanuts it contracted packaging to an outside source. This was largely because the Goodyear AZ firm had no in-house method to minimize oxygen in the headspace of the composite can prior to lidding. Without it the firm would compromise product freshness if it packed its peanuts in-house.
When Ass Kickin’ Peanuts proved popular SSF president Jeff Jacobs decided to reduce the firm’s reliance on a co-packer and bring peanut packaging in-house. To do so he had to find a system that would reliably reduce headspace oxygen prior to double-seaming of the can end. In April of this year he found the system he needed in the LCI-300 Auto Fill from VBS Industries.
“In looking at nitrogen-flushing systems” says Jacobs “the biggest things for us were ease of operation line speed and footprint. VBS delivered on all three fronts plus they were easy to work with. And they came in with an acceptable price.”
Most LN2 systems on the market were designed to meet the needs of high-speed beverage manufacturers interested in pressurizing plastic bottles or noncarbonated cans a process that enables them to lightweight containers and achieve better stacking strength. These high-speed LN2 systems are often overkill for food processors. VBS developed the LCI-300 specifically to meet the needs of smaller processors such as Southwest Specialty Food where speeds of 25 containers/min are typical.
The LCI-300 requires only 2 sq’ of floor space and features a dosing head that measures only 2”x9”. Following the bulk-and-dribble filler on the line the VBS system accurately meters a small dose of liquid nitrogen into each open container. As the container is conveyed from the LN2 system toward the seaming equipment that applies the lid the liquid nitrogen filled at -320ºF warms to room temperature and vaporizes expanding to 700 times its volume to displace the oxygen in the package headspace.
“When our Ass Kickin’ Peanuts were packed by the co-packer” says Jacobs “it left around seven percent oxygen in the headspace.” Back then no liquid nitrogen was dosed into the package. “With the VBS system we’re achieving close to two percent oxygen in the headspace. That improvement has allowed us to be confident that consumers are receiving high-quality product.”
To ensure consistent reduction of oxygen it’s critical for the LN2 system to meter an exact dose into each container. Depending on the nozzle the LCI-300 can dose from 0.01 g per second to 20 g per second while maintaining a dose accuracy of ± 5%. To treat both 6-oz and 12-oz composite cans of peanuts at SSF VBS recommended its diverging nozzle which features seven individual holes to gently spray a large dose of LN2 into each container.
A unique recirculating design and an integral nitrogen purge device on the LCI-300 ensure that an accurate dose of LN2 is delivered every time a container is detected regardless of the time elapsed between containers. This flexibility is important to Southwest Specialty Food; its line speed can range from 20 to 50 containers/min. Even temporary line stoppages do not affect the performance of the VBS system.
“For us the main selling point of the VBS system was its ease of use” says Jacobs. Advanced electronics allow the operator to fine-tune dosing parameters with just a touch of a button and change over the system from 6- to 12-oz composite cans in less than five minutes. “It’s a piece of cake” says Jacobs.
“Since we installed the VBS system in April we haven’t done any maintenance whatsoever. We’ve had no unplanned downtime and we’ve not made a single call to their service department. But knowing they are available extended hours adds to our confidence that we made the right choice.”
With the peanut-packing line now in-house Southwest Specialty Food plans to expand their product line. In addition to its popular habanero-flavored Ass Kickin’ Peanuts the company will soon introduce jalapeno cheddar-flavored peanuts and chipotle-flavored peanuts. —PR
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