Michigan Turkey Producers’ (MTP) Grand Rapids, Mich.-based state-of-the-art, ready-to-eat (RTE), products plant recently underwent a 33,000-square-foot addition to help it keep pace with increasing product demand. But as production increased, so did its number of soiled smoke racks.

The plant manufactures a variety of RTE and ready-to-cook, value-added products including pre-seasoned and flavored products, commodity turkey parts (breasts, fillets, thighs, drumsticks, wings and necks) and ground turkey in various portion sizes and packaging options.

Ideal solution

Management decided it was time to automate its manual smoke rack cleaning/sanitizing process. After researching options, MTP acquired a custom-built model WR-1500-Smoke Truck Tunnel Washer from Clearwater, Fla.-based Douglas Machines Corp. The model is designed for continuous operation, provides repeatable clean and sanitized smoke racks, variable speed drive and digital readout to modify and monitor speed for varying soil conditions, one pair of stainless-steel chains that transports trucks through a 160 degree F recirculating wash and a 180 degree F fresh-water sanitizing rinse section, and dwell zones and retractable doors at entrance and exit points prevent overspray from splashing onto operators. A dwell zone between the wash and rinse sections helps minimize cross-contamination between the fresh and detergent water and allows the operator to manage the flow of fresh water back into the recirculating wash tank for reuse or to the drain; fixed product guides keep trucks in place, which prevent jamming; booster heaters maintain proper operating temperatures; all components are easily reachable; a recirculated wash tank allows for less water use than pressure washing the racks; and the fresh water sanitizing rinse at high temperature replaces chemicals during sanitation thereby saving money, among other things.

MTP’s new automated tunnel washer system is close in size to the floor pit previously used to soak smoke racks in caustic chemicals, so only minor factory alterations were required.

“Douglas fit the [220 square foot] custom rack wash into our current layout — and at a competitive price,” says Mike Engle, RTE plant manager.

Automating the process

Manually cleaning and sanitizing smoke racks is a time-consuming, labor-intensive and potentially hazardous process for staffers, who used caustic detergents and sanitizing agents during high-pressure washing. This process could not ensure effectively cleaned/sanitized smoke racks on a consistent basis. It also required eight employees between both shifts while the automated process requires only four.

“We could wash about 15 racks per hour manually,” Engle says. “The custom-built WR-1500-STW tunnel washer cleans up to 30 smoke racks per hour [420 per day], doubling our previous throughput.”

MTP’s new washer system, which became operational on June 24, 2016, operates two shifts per day, five to seven days per week. It took 18 weeks to build, two weeks to install and four weeks of prep work.

The system features Engle likes best include all-stainless construction, recirculating wash tank, fresh water sanitizing rinse, removable filter screens, and automatic fill and water level controls.

“We are now getting consistently cleaned racks, and Douglas personnel have been very helpful with the install and support,” he adds.  NP