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Efficient ham production

For industrial production of cooked ham, Handtmann offers various modern manufacturing processes based on vacuum and high-vacuum filling technology, all the way up to complete line solutions. This Handtmann Line Solution (HLS) covers the entire fully automated process, from mixing in product preparation to direct metering into molds, trays, or thermoformed packs.

Per capita consumption of sausage and meat products in Germany has remained stable – at around 30 kg – for over 20 years (2021: 29.4 kg). At 4.7 kg, ham ranks third after boiled sausage and raw sausage. Among the most popular types of sausage in German households, ham is in second place, after the top seller salami (Wurst-Report 2021).

Handtmann vacuum filling technology enables many efficient and economical processing options that simultaneously preserve the products’ important gustatory characteristics. Vacuums are used to generate or support various technologically or sensorially relevant effects during a process chain. An important vacuum application is the feeding and evacuation of products with the aim of transporting or pumping them gently and filling the containers with as little air as possible.

A vacuum feeds the product carefully into the mechanical pump system. The VF 830 to VF 848 vacuum fillers of the VF 800 generation are well suited for making small cooked hams. Large conveyor geometries and variable pump rotors with four instead of twelve or 14 blades gently process the material to create a first-class product. The VF 842, for example, can process between 4,000 and 4,900 kg/h, at portion sizes of 8,000 g, calibers of 100 mm and portion lengths of 1,000 mm in shirred 35 m long artificial casings.

Filling under high vacuum

With its high-vacuum fillers, Handtmann offers sophisticated processing technology and potential for optimizing production processes, production output and product quality. The company’s high-vacuum fillers include an additional vacuum pump by the hopper conveyor vacuum and made especially for it. The hopper is closed and has a connection to an upstream reservoir, such as a bottom hopper, silo, or tank. The vacuum in the filling hopper sucks meat from this reservoir into the filling machine, intensively evacuating the product. A unique feature of this technical solution is the servo-controlled regulation of the inlet valve between the reservoir and the hopper in combination with an automatic level sensor for continuously filling the hopper. The control adjusts the opening gap of the valve and thus the feed rate of the material going into the hopper. The adjustment is made according to the piece size or the homogeneity and viscosity of the product. When large pieces of ham are drawn in, the gap should be much larger to allow the product to pass through the valve without mechanical stress. In addition, an active feeder is installed to support the onward transport of the product into the conveying system. This can also be adapted to the requirements of the end-product quality, both in terms of control technology as well as mechanically, thus also ensuring portions of exact weight. The amount of vacuum applied greatly influences the product quality and can also be controlled.

Ham from large muscles

In cooked ham production, the HVF 670 high-vacuum filler is designed for processing large muscle pieces, all the way to whole topsides/silversides. The individual pieces are gently portioned and remain as whole muscle pieces in the conveying system with a volume of 10,000 cm3 and an outlet diameter of 100 mm. The result is a first-class product with optimum product binding and no air pockets or jelly heel.

Filling capacities of up to 16,000 kg/h are theoretically possible with the HVF 670-16. In the production process, tumbled or mixed pieces of meat in brine are filled into appropriate casings via the HVF 670 conveyor system and subsequently sealed with clips. This is followed by a thermal brewing process before the portions are cut into appropriate slices on slicing machines.

Examples include production in shirred artificial casings (casing length 35 m) and clip closures, for example: hams weighing 1,300 g with a caliber of 130 mm and a portion length of 1,000 mm = production capacity of from 5,400 kg/h to 6,500 kg/h; hams weighing 5,000 g with a caliber of 130 mm and a portion length of 420 mm = production capacity of from 3,900 kg/h to 4,700 kg/h.

Ham produced from small pieces

With a conveyor volume of 1,900 cm3, the HVF 664 high-vacuum filler is optimal for processing small cuts of meat with piece sizes of up to 500 g, or minced material, into cooked ham. Theoretical filling capacities of up to 14,400 kg/h are possible.

Performance examples for a product made of small cuts of ham (shirred artificial casing with a casing length of 35 m and a clip closure): hams weighing 8,000 g with a caliber of 100 mm and a portion length of 1,000 mm = production capacity of from 4,900 kg/h to 6,000 kg/h.; hams weighing 2,500 g with a caliber of 100 mm and a portion length of 350 mm = production capacity of from 4,100 kg/h to 5,000 kg/h.

Dosing and cutting solutions

Handtmann’s patented SV 424 and SV 425 cutting valves for dosing and cutting cooked ham products are unique on the market. In conjunction with a vacuum or high-vacuum filler, a product is dosed or pre-batched directly into molds, trays, or thermoformed packs in a vertical filling process (for example, cooked ham with rind). The SV 425 cutting valve has an outlet diameter of 100 mm (1- or 2-lane); the SV 424 has an outlet diameter of 60 mm (1-, 2- or 4-lane).

The cooked ham filling process is currently carried out by manual filling or insertion of muscle pieces, or by alternative feeding systems. The SV 424 and SV 425 metering and cutting valves offer the option of fully automating the entire production process in a complete solution, from product preparation by the Handtmann Inotec Vario mixer to the outlet of the cutting valves.

With this one-stop solution (Handtmann Line Solution HLS), pre-evacuation takes place under vacuum in the Variomixer as well as in the hopper of the high-vacuum filler. This significantly increases production by shortening the evacuation time in the thermoforming packaging machine and enabling significantly higher cycle rates on the thermoforming packaging line or even the entire line.

At the same time, it improves product quality by reducing and optimizing the distribution of air pockets in the product, which achieves better results, especially in the case of sliced products. These perfectly coordinated process steps also prevent undesirable jelly sedimentation.

Vegan cooked ham products

Cooked ham is highly popular because it can be consumed in many ways. At the same time, however, demand for meat substitutes is growing. The production technologies described above can also be used to product optimal vegan cooked ham. This naturally involves the use of very different starting masses, some of which have a high air content. Like meat-based products, an optimum product appearance can only be obtained without air inclusions.

The finely tuned process steps of vacuum mixing and high-vacuum filling from a single source (HLS) can be used for the automated production process of optimal cooked ham or vegan substitutes. It offers complete control and the option of adjusting the air content of the raw material during the vacuum mixing process and the subsequent high-vacuum filling process. The new line solution enables significantly more efficient processes when manufacturing cooked ham.

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