Pasta with Gusto
By Jim McMahon
Manufacturer of gluten-free pasta ramps up its manufacturing capabilities with continuous-process cooking and cooling line equipment to maximize production output
Located in Madison, Wis., Tribe 9 Foods (Tribe 9) is a highly innovative specialty foods company dedicated to creating delicious, nourishing and functional food.
Over the last four years, the company has built industry-wide reputation for producing truly exceptional fresh and cooked, traditional and gluten-free pastas for retail, food service, contract manufacturing and private label customers throughout the U.S.
Through its signature Taste Republic brand, Tribe 9 manufactures an extensive selection of gluten-free pastas including: fresh gluten-free spinach fettuccine; four-cheese tortellini and lasagna sheets for retail; and heat-and-serve ziti, penne, shells and macaroni for food-service customers.
Always prioritizing product quality, Tribe 9 produces gluten-free pasta with a true al dente texture that, coupled with the finest all-natural ingredients, results in the freshest all-natural pasta possible, as evidenced by the growing market share that Taste Republic has earned among gluten-free brands.
“Today our fresh pasta is sold to grocery stores and restaurants across the nation,” says Peter Robertson, vice president of food service and past guru at Tribe 9 Foods.
“We believe fresh pasta can be gluten-free and still have the same amazing taste and texture as traditional pasta,” Robertson states.
“That’s the standard each of our products has to meet before ever making its way to our customers’ plates.”
In 2019, Tribe 9 built a new manufacturing facility to further support growth in Taste Republic’s co-manufacturing, private label and foodservice businesses.
Capabilities at this new facility included extrusion, IQF (individually quick-frozen), form-fill-seal and flow-wrap packaging, nut butter milling, and gluten-free flour blending.
“Although the facility was designed for small batches, it is still state-of-the-art,” says Robertson. “It includes the capability to produce gluten-free foods; fill individual and industry/bulk containers from consumer packages to 1,200-pound totes; extrude and fill pastas; and using the IQF freezing method, giving us diverse and unique competencies.
“In the new plant we expanded our singular gluten-free, fresh product line to three lines,” Robertson continues.
“We also added a line for our gluten-free filled-pasta process for ravioli and tortellini, and a second large IQF freezer for the quick-frozen pasta line.
“All in all, we added five new production lines when we moved into this building.”
As Robertson relates, having all these technologies integrated in one modern facilities has enabled Tribe 9 to enjoy complete control over manufacturing process and safety protocols, as well as product quality.
One of the key new technologies introduced to the plant was a continuous process for cooking and cooling pasta.
In 2017, Tribe 9 implemented a continuous-process pasta cooking and cooling system using a rotary-drum process to support its gluten-free pasta line.
This system slowly moves the pasta through an enclosed perforated drum—submerging the product in water—using an auger or screw to control the dwell times.
The pasta is hydrated and cooked to the same degree throughout the movement in the drum from entry to exit. It is then transferred into a cooling system, using a similar continuous process, and conveyed to the IQF freezer.
“Once we had this system installed we quickly maxed out its capability,” explains Robertson. “We also saw the downfalls of working with this particular continuous-process system.
“It was very difficult to clean because so many of the parts had to come off.
“We realized the time savings that could be had, and reduced labor hours, with a more automated clean-in-place (CIP) system.”
With sanitation and clean-up times being critical factors for food processors, speeding up the sanitation process with faster changeovers not only reduce labour hours, Robertson points out, “but also provide the flexibility to run a variety of different products daily on the same line.
“To handle our heightened volume needs of cooked gluten-free pasta, we added another line, and this time we opted for a cooker and cooler with a very complete CIP capability,” says Robertson, describing recent installation of the Clean-Flow continuous-process systems.
Manufactured by Lyco Manufacturing (Lyco), the Clean-Flow continuous-processing system was developed for cooking and cooling pasta, vegetables and potatoes, and designed specifically to meet the urgent needs for food safety, quick change-overs and faster clean-up time for food processors.
Utilizing separate, but connected machines for cooking and cooling, the Clean-Flow design permits pasta to be entered into the cooker, and then slowly moved through the cooking zone.
The system’s precision-made screw auger resides in a stationary wedge-wire screen, encapsulates the screw from the 3:00 to 9:00 position. The tolerance between the screw and the screen is very close, less than one-half a grain of rice.
As Lyco’s area sales manager Travis Vergenz explains, “The water agitation system, called Hydro-Flow, is injected through the screen which keeps the pasta off from the floor of the screen, where it is maintained in total suspension.
“It distributes the product loading across the width of the machine more evenly, uniformly treating each pasta particle,” Vergenz relates.
“Additionally, a gentle mechanical stirring action is applied on the pasta as it progresses through the machine.”
The pasta is cooked to the same degree throughout its movement from entry to exit, with the screw controlling dwell times, ensuring uniform first-in/first-out processing.
This totally-enclosed, continuous-flow process ensures consistent quality of the pasta, whereby each food particle smoothly moves through the process with no breaks or variations in time, sequence or temperature.
“At Tribe 9, the pasta runs through the 40-inch-diameter by seven-foot-long cooking Clean-Flow system, then is immediately put through another 30-inch-diameter by seven-foot-long Clean-Flow cooling system to stop the cooking process,” Vergenz continues.
“The cooling system is identical to the Clean-Flow cooking system in process steps and functionality, including Hydro-Flow and the gentle mechanical stirring action.”
After the Clean-Flow cooler chills the pasta temperature down to 40°F (4°C), the food particles exit the cooler onto a shaker table, distributing the products onto a stainless steel belt, and then conveyed straight into the freezer.
After passing the continuous-freezing IQF process in a liquid nitrogen tunnel, the particles of frozen pasta exiting the freezer they are quickly packaged inside totes and put into deep-freeze storage, pending distribution.
The system’s pre-programmed PLCs (programmable logic controllers) ensure a highly-controlled process and recipe management for precise automated control of cook and cool functions, including time and temperature.
This results in uniform heating and cooling, says Robertson, along with totally consistent end product.
Handling 2,400 pounds of cooked gluten-free pasta per hour, two shifts daily, the new line produces a consistent product of less than one-percent defect rate, while reducing clean-up and changeover times to less than 40 minutes.
“We are finding it increasingly difficult to procure qualified machine operators,” Robertson notes, “so designing systems that are more intuitive to operate makes a significant impact on improving our machine and line uptime, product quality and overall plant performance.
“Clean-Flow is definitely such an intuitive system.”
The innovative combination Clean-Flow cook-and-cool system at Tribe 9 processes approximately 60,000 pounds of gluten-free pasta weekly, with more than 99 per cent of the fragile pasta remaining undamaged the rigorous process.
According to Lyco, Clean-Flow is designed to reduce clean-up from hours to minutes, because the screw is totally exposed for cleaning.
During clean-up the wedge-wire screen is released from its fixed position, and is continually rotated 360° around the screw, alternately exposing the interior and exterior of the screen to CIP manifolds located in the cover of the machine.
The screw can be rotated at the same time as the screen, again exposing all surfaces to the cleansing water sprays. With this capability, the CIP can clean more than 98 per cent of the machine surface areas without manual intervention.
“A critical reason why we decided to go with Clean-Flow was because of the reduced time to clean the system,” Robertson points out.
“Although The Clean-Flow line for cooked gluten-free pasta is our biggest processing line, its is now the easiest to clean.
“We run the line two shifts daily, five days per week,” he says, “and the CIP system, from start to finish, including filling and heating the water, is about 40 minutes,” he extols.
“What we save in cleaning time and labour is just amazing.”
Adds Robertson: “We are currently adding another 23,000 square feet of space to aid our production potential, and we are poised to minimally double our sales volume with our current facilities.
“It is innovative processing systems, like Clean-Flow, which are critical to Tribe 9 Foods maintaining its successful positioning in the market as a premiere alternative pasta maker.”