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Article | June 30, 1999
Pouch is economical, ecological
The formed hamburger patties produced at Micarna require a thermoformed tray for a package because their shape must be protected through distribution. Unformed ground beef, however, needs no such protection, so Micarna relies on a simpler, less expensive and "greener" alternative: modified-atmosphere pouches produced on a vertical form/fill/seal machine.
"The flexible pouch is environmentally sound because it involves minimal material and once you work out your logistics with the returnable plastic carriers it's easy to handle and distribute" says Hans Heinzelmann head of meat marketing at Migros. "But most important it's been well accepted by the consumer." The system Micarna uses for its pouched ground beef supplied by Hastamat (Lahnau Germany) consists of a mincing machine conveyor dosing unit vf/f/s machine and thermal-transfer weigh/price/label unit. The R250 vf/f/s machine is a fairly standard Hastamat machine easily capable of reaching the 50 pouch/min range that Micarna wanted. Portioning the ground beef at that rate however was a special challenge. Hastamat met it by coming up with a dual-pan volumetric dosing system mounted over the vf/f/s machine. The ground beef drops out of the mincing machine and is conveyed up an incline conveyor until it drops into one of the two pans of the dosing unit. After a predetermined period of time the filled pan moves into position above the feed tube of the vf/f/s machine and drops its contents while the second pan moves into position below the dosing unit to begin receiving its load of beef. Alternating in this fashion the two pans are capable of filling pouches with ground beef with a target weight of 300 g (10.6 oz) at the required 50/min rate. A larger 800-g (28.25 oz) pouch is packaged at about half that speed. In forming and filling each pouch the Hastamat machine also evacuates and backflushes with a mix of oxygen and carbon dioxide similar to that used on Micarna's tray-packed case-ready ground beef. Because measurement is done volumetrically and because ground beef flows at such an unpredictable and uneven rate actual weights vary considerably from one pack to the next. This is desirable says Micarna packaging manager Pius Nietlispach because individual shoppers may want anywhere from 280 to 350 g of meat. The last step in the process is labeling. The pouches are conveyed over the platform of a weigh/price scale and thermal-transfer labeler. After weighing the pouch it prints and applies a label showing the package weight price date of packaging sell-by date and best-if-consumed-by date. From there pouches are loaded into reusable plastic trays for shipment out to Migros distribution centers. The flexible film material used by Micarna is from P&E/PK Verpackungen (Kempten Germany). It's a two-layer adhesive lamination of 15-micron (60-ga) biaxially oriented polyamide/70-micron (3-mil) polyethylene. The polyamide provides sufficient gas barrier properties while the PE is a barrier to moisture.
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