Mixing quite possibly could be the place where more opportunities for mistakes can occur than any other spot in the pre-cooked process. Mixing will define the final product texture, whether it is in a cooked or fresh sausage. Mixing is very important regarding how the protein is manipulated, and that affects the finished product.

“In many mixing systems, you are trying to manipulate the protein in a way that you can maximize protein extraction if you are trying to develop a product that has good texture and good bind,” explains Jeff Sindelar, extension meat specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “However, you also want to be careful that you don’t damage the protein. You can actually create protein smearing. You can create a situation where you actually lose some of the protein functionality, and that can actually translate into finished product texture and appearance.”

Finding the balance of manipulating proteins during mixing to achieve desired results is dependent on several variables, including raw material species and quality of the protein along with the amount of fat and water in the product, Sindelar says. Additional ingredients, including salt, also are factors.

Mixing consistency is very important from a texture, economic and consumer standpoint as well, Sindelar says. When mixing several ingredients, such as spices, salt and sugar, mixing is important to achieve good distribution. In cases where ingredients are added at very small levels, such as curing ingredients, liquid seasonings and oil resins, consistency is necessary to create flavor uniformity. Inconsistency can create non-mixed spots in a batch of products, which, in turn, could affect bind and yield, and over-mixing the product can also occur, Sindelar says.

Consistency in mixing is accomplished by recognizing all the variables, including raw material and ingredients.

“Once you identify the steps, you just use the data and repeat the successful processes, and then you will keep consistency,” says Rick Leiding, owner and operator of Leiding’s Meats & Catering, in Danville, Ill. 

Processors also need to consider what they are trying to accomplish with the product along with what limitations and parameters they have in terms of what finished product specifications need to be, Sindelar says. In addition, processors need to understand the limitations and potential of their equipment as well as making sure they are using the right equipment in the way they need to be using it to achieve the consistency they want, he says.


Taking on mixing challenges

Leiding’s Meats & Catering, which does research and development for the meat industry, has experience with blending several ingredients into products and dealing with interesting combinations. For example, Leiding’s recently mixed 51 pounds of meat and 49 pounds of fluid. The product incorporated several binders. If added in the wrong sequence, it would have created a dumpling effect in the mixer.

“We had to learn at what point you needed to add what ingredient and how far into the mix cycle to add it so you could get it recorded and repeat those steps,” Leiding says. “If we didn’t do it in the right sequence, it never would have gone into the proper blended solution.”

When working with several ingredients, when one grinds also becomes an issue. When adding ingredients such as cheeses and peppers to products, most of the time processors need to grind, grind, mix and then stuff, Leiding says.

“You will get a better blend that way, and you’ll get the product to disperse a little more uniformly in the meat block,” he explains. “…When you grind twice and then go to the mixer, the meat is still a little more pliable.”

About two years ago, changes to hogs’ diet left meat processors dealing with a new mixing challenge. With the changed diet, the fat juices in the pork changed, causing a loss of flavor profile and adhesive qualities, Leiding says. “We saw a possibility for lending itself to be mealy, like crumbling,” he explains. “Therefore, it did cause some changes to mixing procedures and what you added into the mixture for ingredients.”

The industry has gotten over that bubble and equipment continues to improve to take on another challenge of meeting capacity. Many processors have moved to the mixer/grinders, which to Leiding is not an improvement in mixing, but an improvement in how much capacity can be run. Mixer/grinders also reduce the risk of injury because meat is lifted half as often, he says. The drawback to mixer/grinders is that meat ends up in the auger opening and it is not mixed, Leiding says. The unmixed meat then needs to be reincorporated into the main meat blend. 

“It works, but still it’s not as good as when you put the meat into a mixer without an auger housing in it,” Leiding says.

One of the physical challenges for a smaller plant, mixing 100- to 200-pound blends, is putting that lug into a lug cart.

“You’ve got to pick that lug cart up and dump that lug cart into, say, a grinder for a second grind or get it put into the dumper mechanism for the stuffer,” Leiding says.

Leiding envisions a mixer with a lift that has a small footprint to solve this problem.

Mixing equipment is being better designed with sanitation in mind as well, but attention still needs to be paid to the equipment’s sanitation. For example, when mixing paddles are removed from certain pieces of equipment, it can be difficult to properly clean the hub end, Leiding says. Sanitation can be improved when pieces are welded on verses bolted on, he says.

Vacuumization is becoming more common in the industry, as well, Sindelar says. Equipment manufacturers are designing mixers that are jacketed, so processors can control temperatures and hook up chilling systems. Equipment is also being designed for gentler loading and unloading, realizing that those are areas that can potentially change, Sindelar says.

“Mixing technology is improving by mixing-equipment manufacturers having a better understanding of what the needs really are and what the challenges are and realizing that there is opportunity and ways to improve the technology,” he says.