09 Aug 11 Continuous retort could revolutionise production
Standard batch retort processing technology, as at left, is inefficient and slow – and it’s days could be numbered if a UK innovator’s new continuous system takes off.
Continuous Retorts, based in Newcastle, UK, has several international patents for the technology and has now successfully built a full-scale development rig that enables flexible pouch and semi rigid plastic tray packaged food to be continuously pasteurised or sterilised rather than in batches – a slow, costly and inefficient manufacturing process.
The company recently received a £250 000 investment from the Finance for Business North East Technology Fund managed by IP Group plc to overcome the last remaining technical milestones and reach full commercialisation. No such equipment currently exists.
Premium pouched and tray packaged food is rapidly replacing tin cans and glass jars in supermarkets due to their many benefits. The fact that you can microwave the food in these containers has significant appeal for the time-pressed consumer.
Crucially for the manufacturing industry, if this new concept technology becomes available, flexible pouch and semi rigid tray packaged food could be produced at a similar or even lower cost per unit than canned food, with up to 1 200 packs processed per minute through a single machine that uses around 50% less energy, in only a quarter of the factory floor space compared to the same output with batch retorts.
In addition, the company says as the process uses a closed-loop cooling system, the enormous quantities of water lost through the current batch production process will be virtually eliminated, further reducing production costs and making the process significantly more environmentally friendly than other options on the market.
Continuous Retorts’ founder and MD, David Lambert, also founded International Cuisine Limited (ICL) in Consett, which processes over one million servings of food every week. He says: “When I developed the retort process in ICL the only units available in the marketplace were batch retorts. Cost of manufacture was a major headache, and that was with relatively low energy costs by today’s standards. Despite 24 years passing since I founded ICL, the retort manufacturers have still been unable to develop continuous systems for microwave packaging so I decided to design a new system from scratch – this new technology has enabled CRL to be created and we expect to be selling complete processing lines in Europe, US and Japan by 2013.”
Nick Edgar, investment manager at IP Group, comments: “Continuous Retorts have created a ground-breaking manufacturing process that looks set to revolutionise how many players in the food industry do business. Research shows the system will fill a large gap in the marketplace and the fact that labour and energy inefficiencies are stripped out will be of huge appeal to manufacturers who are fighting rising costs. The level of interest from the industry in terms of commercial partners is already very strong.
Source: Packaging Digest