Stuffers and grinders are the workhorses of any ground beef or sausage production facility. Both the quality and safety of the final product depend on that equipment, so it is of paramount importance that the machines excel in terms of both production and sanitation.

“Sanitation is key, and most of the companies that produce those machines have that at the forefront of their minds when they are designing them,” says Trevor Caviness, vice president of Caviness Beef Packers, in Hereford, Texas. The company’s Palo Duro Meat Processing division, in nearby Amarillo, produces fine-ground and coarse-ground beef, fresh and frozen, for retail and foodservice sectors, as well as the Federal School Lunch Program.

“Anywhere they can limit catch points for the product, the better,” he adds. “When metal is bolted to metal, that usually doesn’t work very well, because food gets in there, and you can’t clean it. You need smooth, stainless surfaces.”

The hopper on a grinder is a particular area of concern, he notes. It has to be at a proper angle so that water and moisture can drain out during downtime to prevent bacterial growth.

Caviness says that his company has daily, weekly and monthly preventative maintenance programs for his stuffers and grinders. Spares are kept of any part that could potentially shut down production if it breaks, such as pumps, hoses or motors.

Knives and plates

Jeff Sindelar, assistant professor and extension meat specialist at the Meat Science & Muscle Biology Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says that knife and plate care is the most neglected area on the grinder. He recommends having them sharpened regularly, either by a third party or internally.

“One of the easiest ways to determine whether your knife and plate are sharp and in proper maintenance is to see what the product looks like coming out,” Sindelar notes. If everything is properly sharpened, the meat will come out in long ribbons that are the size of the hole on the plate. “When you start seeing smearing and ribbons that aren’t as defined, that’s a good indicator that your knife and plate are probably dull.”

Sindelar also stresses that the knives and the plates should be matched at all times, as they will eventually “mate.”

“The knife will grind its characteristic grooves into the plate,” he explains. “If you switch it out with a different plate, you’ll get a different wearing, which will create unnecessary dulling of the plates.”

The knife and plate should be kept together for their entire lives and should be sharpened at the same time, Sindelar recommends.

At the University’s Meat Lab, for example, each knife and plate set is kept together on a separate wire holder, so nothing gets mismatched.

Changes in grinds

Caviness notes that the types of grinds that are required by the industry have changed over the years. Twenty years ago, he notes, grocery stores bought coarse-ground beef, which they would fine grind before putting the product in the meat case. Now, however, almost everything that goes to retail is a case-ready, fine-ground product that is produced using a 1/8-inch or a 3/32-inch plate.

Still, he says, “there [are] more facilities doing cooking and pre-cooked meals, so there may be more of a need for fresh or frozen coarse-ground product. It’s sold to those cookers and processors that manipulate it into steak fingers or chicken-fried steak, or whatever their product is, and fully cook it.”

Portions of this article are taken from the December 2009 issue of the Independent Processor.