Compressed air is used in a variety of applications within the Food & Beverage Industry. In fact, nearly every stage of production and handling, from preparation of ingredients to product creation to packaging and shipping may involve compressed air in minor and major operations. Conveyor belts may be pneumatically driven. Automated lines for filling or packaging can utilize compressed air. Oxygen-boosting aeration processes, yogurt fermentation, and a host of other operations also use compressed air for production efficiency and safety.
Food and beverage grade gases, for example, can include carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and nitrous oxide. These gases give your sodas their fizz and whipping cream its volume as it is dispensed. Furthermore, compressed air is used in generating nitrogen to preserve food in the canning, storage and packaging process.
Clean, dry and contaminant-free air is critical for all applications where the compressed air may come in contact with the product or packaging materials.
COMPRESSED AIR MEETS ICE CREAM
An exemplary model of how compressed air is used in the Food and Beverage Industry can be found in the production of ice cream. There, the science of compressed air and the careful engineering of a modern food production facility come together to produce one of the world’s favorite treats.
Key to it all is the careful management of temperature and moving the central product safely and efficiently from one stage of production to another.
Large-scale production involves enormous tanks in which the primary ingredients of dairy, eggs, sugar, and some additives are blended. These industrial food-safe tanks hold thousands of gallons of product each and must be chilled to approximately 36°F.
Pasteurization follows, a step in which the temperature must be brought up to 180°F to kill the bacteria. Compressed air is then used to push the pasteurized mixture into a homogenization unit that enables fat particles to be broken down without causing separation in the mix.
Safety, as indicated above, is closely tied to temperature regulation, and compressed air is utilized significantly in that process to move product from one stage to another, control air distribution through pipes, and so forth. And following pasteurization and homogenization, another temperature shift must occur: the mix must be cool. Water, at just above the freezing point, is pushed past the pipes to bring the mixed cream temperature back to the original refrigerated temperature of 36°F. Free of bacteria, the mixture is ready for the addition of full flavoring elements.
Over the course of 8 hours or so, air may be added to the now-freezing ice cream at careful rates to control the consistency and creaminess of the ice cream. Once the desired thickness is reached but before the ice cream has fully firmed, the cream is injected into its packaging units (pints, gallons, etc.) or moved to the next phase of product creation (such as for inclusion in ice cream sandwiches or pre-packed cones).
This packaging and storage process heavily uses compressed air science to control the speed and safety of operations and air quality (temperature and cleanliness).
From manufacture to processing to packaging and safe storage, compressed air plays a key role in how the ice cream you love comes to be.