For marinades and brines to work properly and add value, they need an effective machine to inject them into the meat.
Ateriyaki-flavored pork tenderloin, or a chicken wing infused with hot sauce adds more value and may attract a consumer’s attention over a plain cut of meat with no added flavors. The process of adding brine or marinades to a meat product requires the use of a reliable injector.
The marinades and brines injected into meat products serve a couple of important purposes, says Arie Kemps, product manager for marination for CFS, Frisco, TX.
“The injected brine composition includes a number of ingredients focused to taste and bite improvements, and also supporting a longer shelf life,” he says.
Innovations in injection technology have focused on the process and the application, Kemps adds.
“The process requires more and more control on the injection performance,” he says. “Examples are continuous performance improvement of injection accuracy, accurate brine distribution in the product, and fully automatic loading and unloading.”
Injectors were originally developed to enhance the curing process for cooked products, such as ham, turkey, and bacon. Their versatility, though, has led to their use in a variety of processing areas with a variety of proteins.
Hams, roast beef, and turkey breasts are common injected items in the deli market, says John Sbraga, chief executive officer of Nu-Meat Technology, South Plainfield, NJ. “The injecting of beef primals and chicken parts for the marination market [is also common.”] Sbraga notes that fish injection is also becoming more popular.
One of the more recent areas of growth for meat injection has been for fresh meat, notes Peter Ludwig, president of Wolf-tec Inc., Kingston, NY.
“In order to transcend the stigma of selling commodity products, many fresh meat purveyors discovered they could inject fresh meat cuts with a fairly low-percentage solution, which created an enhanced product profile for less-experienced food preparers,” he says. The process allowed the purveyors not only to enhance their output yields by 8 to 15 percent but also let them charge a higher per-unit price due to the perceived higher value of the enhancement.
Pork producers were the first processors to experiment with fresh meat injection, but chicken processors also have caught on, and fresh beef producers also are developing injection protocols. The equipment requirements for fresh meat producers vary slightly from that of the cured meat processors.
“The requirements in fresh meat injection are for systems which will offer the highest possible food safety features, since these products will be going to market without going through a pre-ship kill step such as cooking or pasteurization,” Ludwig says. “In many cases [they] are then cooked to temperatures which may not be high enough or long enough to kill potential pathogens.” The injectors also need to keep post-injection purge, or drip loss, to a minimum, as that affects both flavor profile and yields.
The retail sector isn’t the only area using injected meat products. Dave Davis, sales manager for Mepsco, West Chicago, IL. Breaded and grilled foodservice chicken sandwich fillets also have benefited from injection technology.
“The fillets are injected prior to tumble marinating to increase the moisture through the restaurant’s cooking process,” he explains. A chicken wing with brand-name hot sauce injected into it is another trend in injected products.
Needle size and placement are two important issues for processors, explains Mepsco’s Davis. When making purchasing decisions, processors should consider the type of product and the required injection percentage, because that affects the types of needles that are needed.
“Three-millimeter needles are used for small cuts of bone-in and boneless meats,” he says. “Four-millimeter needles should be used for large boneless cuts, over 4 inches in height, and for whole chickens, turkeys, and bone-in hams — which require a stronger needle.”
The correct needle pattern results in a uniform brine distribution and better moisture retention. For example, Davis notes, five needles per square inch would produce a uniform cure distribution, flavor distribution, and uniform moisture to enhance tenderness during the cooking process.
“Ten needles per square inch is commonly used for smaller pieces, chicken tenders and wings, and products that require high pump levels of twenty-five percent or more,” he says. A pattern of 2.5 needles per square inch can be used for low-pump products, basted turkeys, and when the number of holes per square inch is a consideration.
Wolf-tec has also been developing different needle configurations or patterns, which in many cases need to be customized to the products, applications, and their requirements. Although operators should be able to make adjustments to injectors, too much control could allow workers to make adjustments that could negatively impact production and product quality, Ludwig adds.
“Wolf-tec/Schröder has brought forth integrated control features, which limit how much variation the operators can effect before the system automatically sends out ‘red flags’ to management or supervisors,” he says. This process allows customers to take more control of the process while preventing quality control issues.
New products and features
Sbraga of Nu-Meat Technology notes that one of the new features of injectors is the ability to connect to an internal network to monitor the machine. The company offers several types of Movistick injectors, which incorporate Metalquimia spray injection systems. One machine is for bone-in injection and has been used in spiral ham production.
“This machine does not allow over-injection of the star fat area, which prevents softening in this area. The spray-injection technology also keeps the seams between the muscles connected so the spiral ham slicing does not tear pieces of meat.”
Davis notes that Mepsco has added several user-friendly features to its products, including “precision-manufactured needles with a 50-percent higher tinsel strength and a tip that is 50 percent harder, and PLC-controlled marination mixing and chilling systems that reduce mixing errors and control the temperature of the marination that is sent to the injector.”
Sanitation is an important feature in any piece of equipment, and injectors are no different, Ludwig says.
“Injectors of the past were used to prepare fully cooked products, so daily breakdown and sanitation was not as critical,” he explains. “But in today’s environment of food safety focus and the new use of injectors for fresh meats has made it a necessity to perform daily strip-downs of the injector brine path to ensure complete sanitation and minimize the chance of inoculating the products with pathogens.”
Wolf-tec’s Imax generation of Schröder injection systems are getting smaller in size while meeting production levels formerly achieved by larger machines in the past, he notes. The Imax 430 has a 15-inch-wide bed but is able to achieve more than 20,000 pounds per hour.
CFS offers multi-functional and product-oriented injector equipment, Kemps says. Product-oriented equipment includes the AccuJector, the BirdJector, and the PortionJector. Multi-functional injectors include the MultiJector.
“This machine has a perfect access to the whole brine circuit for quick inspection of the cleanliness of the machine,” he says. “As a result, minimum time is required for the daily cleaning and inspection phase, providing the lowest possible costs of ownership.” NP
Injector suppliers participating in the story include:
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