Challenger Foods – Manufacturing

The Company

Major meat manufacturer Challenger Foods is using a revolutionary monitoring system to make substantial energy savings, improve it’s product and increase its output.

Challenger is part of the 2 Sisters Food Group and is a high care, added value, cooked, brined and marinated meat manufacturer, supplying to retail, food service and industrial producers. The company recently had to review its processes and formulations after the majority of its customers started to insist on products with clean declarations. This invariably meant that they wanted products with no or very few ingredients carrying E numbers.

Among the consequences of the formulation changes were a lower process yield and reduced quality of the product due to loss of moisture during the cooking process. This made it more difficult for the company to compete with low cost operations in Thailand, Brazil and Eastern Europe.

But then Challenger engaged with Thermal Barrier, a system used by Energy Perspective to measure the core temperature of meat via a probe inserted into the product. Once the core temperature has been reached, the cook process can be stopped and this results in maximum retention of moisture. Tony Gilroy, Operations Director at Challenger’s Sunderland plant, says “Because of moisture retention, quality was better and the subsequent slicing process was also found to be more efficient, which gave us higher process yields.”

Project Outcomes

“21% Energy Savings, 3% Yield Increase.”

Initial trials of the system showed that steam and roast cooking times and energy input could be reduced by an average of 21 per cent, representing an annual saving of £55,000. There was also a total yield increase of three per cent, which amounts to a saving of £350,000 a year.

The installation of the system proved to be a vital step in enabling us to continue to compete with low cost production abroad. It also safeguarded jobs at the factory, which currently employs nearly 140 people.

Essentially, Challenger was looking for a system that would provide traceability and validation in real-time. They wanted the system to be wireless and have the ability to automatically provide tailored reports.

“A real-time system was the ideal solution.”

Previously, the company had used a “wired” data logger, but this proved to have pitfalls. Very often, the data could not be retrieved because the logger had failed or temperature requirements were found to have not been met far too late – hours after the cooking process had been completed. An efficient and effective real time system was the ideal solution.

The Thermal Barrier System provides thermal validation for every cook process and an electronic report is saved for diligence. The report, which can be forwarded by email to customers, also confirms CCP (Critical Control Point) validation.

For traceability purposes, the report captures vital information such as batch codes, date and time of cook, start and finish time, maximum core temperatures and cabinet air temperatures. The information is password protected and can be accessed on an easy-to-use touch screen computer.

Throughout the cooking process, personnel can view its progress on a simple traffic light visual system. A red box on the screen indicates that a cook has started, amber when it is approaching CCP and green when CCP has been achieved. There are boxes for every oven shelf and each must turn green for the cook to be validated. When this is achieved, an alarm sounds to inform personnel that the batch is ready to be removed from the oven.

“Challenger have complete peace of mind.”

A further benefit of the system is that it can be remotely accessed from outside the plant to permit technical auditing without the presence of technical experts. This means that every cook is validated daily – unlike the conventional validation process used previously, which was conducted every six months.

Tony Gilroy says: “We’re absolutely delighted with the system. Whilst making considerable savings and producing more of a better product, we have complete peace of mind knowing that the cooking process is carried out to the highest possible standards.”