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Food Extruders by Kathy Hunter

Thursday, August 13, 2009 Food extrusion has become a very important process in the manufacture of food products. Food extrusion machines use single or twin screws to transport, mix, knead, shear, shape, and/or cook multiple ingredients into a uniform food product by forcing the ingredient mix through shaped dies to produce specific shapes and lengths. Extrusion provides the foundation for continuous production. Food extruders are used to produce pasta and other cold formed products, cereals, snacks, pet food, feed, confectionery products (including chewing gum, licorice, marshmallows), modified starches for soup, baby food, and instant foods, beverage bases, and texturized vegetable proteins. Single-screw extruders have been in use for continuous cooking and in the forming of ready-to-eat (RTE) cereals as a one-step process since the 1960s. Twin-screw extruders were in common use in food production by the 1980s.

Advantages of Extrusion in Food Processing

The advantage of extrusion is that it produces a more homogeneous and consistent cooking process, which leads to a final product of higher quality with minimum waste. Extrusion is a very efficient process, since all steps can be done in-line: mixing, cooking, forming, cooling, and cutting. Many extruders with modular designs allow changing from one product to another product, color, or shape to be done within minutesa significant process efficiency. Twin-screw extruders are largely self-cleaning, an advantage from the viewpoint of both sanitation and labor savings.

Basic Components of a Food Extruder

While each manufacturer uses its own names for extruder parts, the basic components of a food extrusion line include:

A feeding unit or storage bin above the extruder that meters the raw ingredients into the extruder. Pre-conditioner: an assembly sometimes used to adjust the moisture content and temperature of ingredients (may partially or completely cook them before entering the extruder). Extruder barrel: a pipe-like retainer in which the screw turns. The barrel may be built in sections that contain their own heating or cooling sleeve. Screw: the core of any extruder, the screw conveys the product through the extruder. The flight of the screw pushes product forward. The screw determines not only the quality of the product but also the output of the extruder. Extruders can use either a single screw or twin screws.

Vent: an opening in the barrel before the die plate that allows pressure and steam to be removed. Die plate: final assembly for shaping the product as it leaves the extruder. Cutting station: ensures precise and consistent shape and size of product. Gear box, motor, and controls

Most extruders used for food processing are constructed of stainless steel and designed to meet FDA cGMP guidelines for sanitation.

Types of Extruders: Single-screw vs. Twin-screw

Single-screw extruders typically consist of three zones: feeding zone, kneading zone, cooling zone. In general, single-screw extruders have poor mixing ability and therefore materials should be pre-mixed or pre-conditioned. A single-screw extruders processing conditions can be controlled to achieve a variety of effects on temperature and residence time. The residence time in the barrel can vary from 15 to 300 seconds, determined by increasing or decreasing the speed of the shaft. Single-screw extruders are limited in their ability to transport sticky and/or gummy raw materials, and materials that become sticky during heat compression. A variety of fried and baked snacks are processed using single-screw extruders.

Twin-screw extruders are widely used for the more demanding applications and consist of two types:

1. 2.

Counter-rotating twin-screw extrudersmove in opposing directions Co-rotating twin-screw extrudersmove in same direction Counter-rotating twin-screw extruders are commonly used for processing relatively non-viscous materials requiring low speeds and long residence times, such as gum, jelly, and licorice confections. Co-rotating twin-screw extruders have broadened the variety of products that can be made with extrusion technology and are commonly used in the snack food industry. They provide a high degree of heat transfer but not forced conveyance.

Both counter- and co-rotating screws can be either intermeshing or non-intermeshing, resulting in four basic types of twinscrew extruders.

An intermeshing screw penetrates the channels of the second screw, producing a positive pumping action, efficient mixing, and self-cleaning. Non-intermeshing screws do not engage or interfere with each other and depend on friction for extrusion, like single-screw extruders. They are not designed for pumping or mixing. They function like single-screw extruders, but have higher capacities.

While twin-screw extruders may cost 50 to 150% more than single-screw extruders, they offer a number of advantages. They handle viscous, oily, sticky, or very wet materials that will slip in a single-screw extruder. They also offer positive pumping action, reduced pulsation at the die, and less wear in the smaller parts of the machine than a single-screw extruder. They feature non-pulsating feed and can handle a wide range of particle size, whereas a single-screw extruder is generally limited to a specific range of particle size.

Co-extrusion Systems
Co-extrusion systems are growing in popularity to produce snack foods or other food products with a soft filling. The process uses a twin-screw extruder to produce the outer dry portion of the product. The soft filling is prepared and held in an agitating tank. As processing is completed, the extrudate enters the co-extrusion die, which simultaneously forms and fills the product. As the product leaves the extruder it is shaped and cut.

Low, Medium, and High Shear Stress Extruders

Extruders can also be classified into the categories of low, medium, and high shear stress. Shearing is the working, mixing action that homogenizes the conveyed material. Low shear stress extruders (forming extruders) are used to densify material that is generally high in moisture, such as pasta. They operate at a slow speed and feature a long length-to-diameter ratio, imparting low levels of mechanical energy per unit of throughput. Medium shear stress extruders handle materials with a lower moisture level and mechanical energy inputs are higher. Typical products processed are pet food, aquatic feeds, and textured vegetable proteins. High shear stress extruders are used for highly expanded products with low moisture and bulk density levels. They feature the shortest length-to-diameter ratio and extruder speeds and mechanical energy inputs are high.

Overview of an Expanded Breakfast Cereal Line

Extruders are used in the production of many expanded breakfast cereals. In such a cereal line, the dry ingredients are blended in a mixing vessel and metered into the extruder along with the liquid ingredients. (Note: in many other extrusion processes the individual ingredients are fed directly into the extruder, not requiring pre-blending.) A twin-screw extruder with co-rotating screws forms a homogenous dough. The extrudate is subjected to both heat and shear, based on the quality profile of the final product. Processing temperatures are precisely regulated through individual heating and cooling systems in the extruder barrel. Expansion takes place when the water in the extrudate flashes off as the product is forced through the die. The product shape is determined by the die aperture, expansion, and the die face cutter. The product enters a belt dryer that reduces and stabilizes the moisture content. If a sweetened cereal is being manufactured, the product may enter a coating unit for a liquid confectionery application. This is followed by a final drying procedure before packaging