Fried Green Innovation

by Charlotte Atchley
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Frying consumes valuable resources: the oil that makes up the cooking medium and the energy that heats it. Pile those outlays on top of the volatile commodity costs pinching all industries, and it’s no wonder that snack companies actively seek ways to cut operating ratios to offset ingredient prices. To help snack producers meet this need, fryer manufacturers have made their equipment more efficient in managing oil and energy while keeping in mind product quality and consistency.

IT’S ALL IN THE OIL.

Because oil is the cooking medium for fried foods, it is the most important part of any frying system. Frying anything requires a lot of oil, which is costly and fickle. To maintain the quality and shelf life of products being fried, oil needs to be as fresh and clean as possible. But oxygen and product particles lingering in the hot oil can damage its quality. Snack producers must top off the oil in the fryer and filter the used oil. Even a low production run can cause the oil to sit too long and spoil. This is a costly cooking method, but necessary unless all fried snack producers want to switch their brands to baked.

“When it comes to frying, the challenge becomes maximizing throughput while minimizing the volume of oil contained in the entire system,” said Steve Surmay, vice-president, copack operations, Shearer’s Foods, Brewster, OH.

Equipment manufacturers put a priority on oil conservation as they develop new fryers for the snack industry. For example, Henny Penny Corp., Eaton, OH, launched its Evolution Elite line of fryers in 2009. These low-oil-volume fryers cut the cost of frying by reducing the amount of oil necessary.

“We’ve delivered something that can produce just as much food with 40% less oil in the fryer,” said Jim Anglin, manager, product development, Henny Penny. The fryers automatically replenish the oil instead of relying on a less precise manual process. This not only prevents waste during refilling but also extends the life of the cooking oil.

JC Ford, La Habra, CA, manufactures fryers with the twin goals of keeping oil volume low and filtering the oil to maximize its life cycle.

Casa Herrera, Inc., Pomona, CA, also builds a fryer that reduces the amount of oil necessary to fry tortilla and corn chips and other snacks. The Full-Flow continuous fryer maximizes oil turnover with its low oil capacity.

Design of the hood also affects oil life. For example, the MasterTherm Kettle Fryer from Heat and Control, Inc., Hayward, CA, uses an enclosed hood over just the cooking area instead of the full kettle length. This hood maintains a steam blanket above the cooking oil that removes oxygen to prolong oil life. The MasterTherm’s automatic oil level control system replaces oil that leaves the fryer entrained with the freshly fried kettle chips.

ENERGY EFFICIENT.

Oil isn’t the only element driving up operating costs of producing fried snacks. With companies keeping an eye on sustainability, equipment manufacturers are finding ways to make their new fryers more energy efficient, mostly by eliminating wasted heat and redirecting it to another task in the fryer. This makes a fryer more environmentally friendly and saves on energy costs.

Casa Herrera’s oil heat exchanger comes with an optional Economizer unit, which redirects excess heat to warm up cooking oil. According to the company, the Economizer can yield 10 to 15% better fuel efficiency for a snack producer. The company fully insulated the kettle of its Full Flow Continuous Fryer to prevent heat from escaping.

In addition to purging oxygen from the oil’s surface, the enclosed fryer hood on Heat and Control’s MasterTherm retains heat from the cooking process, improving energy efficiency. While area hoods remove smoke and oil vapors created by fryers, they also exhaust large volumes of surrounding air, forcing plants’ air-conditioning systems to increase energy usage, according to Heat and Control. The MasterTherm’s hood reduces the amount of surrounding air removed while exhausting fryer vapors.

Heat and Control also developed other systems that reduce energy use. For instance, its Stack Heat Recovery System condenses steam from the fryer exhaust stack to make hot water for sanitation or building heat. The company offers the Combustion Air Preheat system, which introduces high-temperature air into a heat exchanger burner, reducing the fuel needed for combustion by up to 4%, according to the company.

QUALITY FIRST.

Although minimizing oil usage and energy waste are important to maintaining a snack producer’s bottom line, product quality and consistency remain primary concerns.

“Every day, 24 hours a day, making sure the product is the same from hour 1 to hour 24 — I think that’s the biggest challenge,” said Chris Armstrong, sales, JC Ford. To maintain product quality throughout a production run, snack producers must keep the oil clean and fresh and ensure the fryer accurately and evenly distributes heat throughout the oil. JC Ford’s fryers come with filters to maintain oil cleanliness and product quality.

Most snack fryers adjust the temperature of the oil upon the loading of a product and any other temperature changes that may occur throughout the frying process. Heat and Control’s MasterTherm continuous and batch fryers distribute heat throughout the oil with a U-tube thermal fluid heat exchanger. This system maintains an even oil temperature throughout the fryer, responds to changes in the product load being cooked, both of which ensure product will be evenly cooked.

Casa Herrera’s Full-Flow continuous fryer’s design creates an even temperature throughout the oil. The company also has a continuous filter and fine-removal system for its fryers that clean the oil every minute so product quality stays consistent throughout production.

Between cutting down on oil usage and minimizing wasted heat and energy, the right frying system can help snack producers reduce operating costs regardless of the snack being fried.            
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