Tips to optimise retort performance

An optimized operation of our retorts is extremely important, as numerous benefits will be obtained from it. As a matter of fact, productivity will be increased, as the OEI (Operation Efficiency Index) of the process equipment will be maximised and the risk of downtime will be reduced, hence avoiding delays and guaranteeing product quality. Furthermore, there will be cost savings in terms of energy consumption and maintenance.

A-144-OS Installation Italy (3)

In order to guarantee the retort’s proper functioning, the following recommendations are important to take into account:

Ensure the proper installation of the retort

An error in the installation of this type of equipment may lead to headaches from the beginning. It may well prevent the supply of services from being controlled properly, delay the start-up of the production process and even damage the equipment or cause personal injury. 

In order to avoid such situations, it is vital to follow the installation instructions carefully and the team installing the retort should be properly qualified. In this respect, it is necessary to have detailed documentation and clear instructions so that the technicians can carry out the process correctly. 

For proper installation, it is also important to receive on-site or remote guidance from the manufacturers. Nowadays, most retort equipment includes software for remote connection, so that many technical support tasks can be performed remotely, leading to time and cost savings. 


Determine the appropriate product and process through pilot tests

Before developing a new product or a newrecipe, simulations should be carried out to test the processes on different equipment. To do so, it is important to have pilot retorts in order to test diverse models (static or multi-processes with agitation) in short runs or with just one container. 

Through such tests, it is possible to compare the different sterilisation technologies and evaluate which process best suits our needs.

[Free guide]: Most common problems of  industrial retorts

Establish the best possible industrial preparation process

The preparation process is the key factor to obtain the appropriate level of food safety with minimum product deterioration. With sterilisation, microbial growth is stopped but as a thermal process is involved, the product is being transformed through heating. Therefore, it is essential to develop a good preparation process so as to obtain the best quality for the food product. 

In this respect, there are different factors to be taken into account, such as:

- Maximum waiting time between packaging and sterilisation

- Heating ramp rate

- Temperature

- Steady pressure to maintain the integrity of the packaging

- Agitation level. 

The preparation process should be prepared in accordance with these variables and product itself. As a general rule, it is recommended to maintain the product at a high temperature for as little time as possible and cool it quickly. However, products without much liquid will need slower heating ramp rates to ensure homogeneous cooking. 

On the other hand, the retort pressure is another key factor to be taken into consideration. If the pressure stipulated in the preparation process is inappropriate, the container may be damaged, due to an excess or lack of pressure, with the subsequent risk of the hermetic seal being broken.


Performance of process validation tests 

The retort thermal process is complex and is the most critical point in the entire production line. Optimum performance will extend the shelf life of the packaged food or beverages and improve their preservation, whilst an error may lead to a serious food safety problem. Proper performance of thermal processes will also help to extend the useful capacity of the retorts and increase productivity. 

Over time, deviations in these processes are usual, so it is important to detect them rapidly, identify their source and know how to handle them. To do so, it is highly recommended to carry out regular thermal distribution (TD) and heat penetration (HP) tests. 


Maintenance and cleaning should be carried out in accordance with the Instructions Manual 

Retorts require very little maintenance, but it is necessary to carry out certain preventive tasks so as to avoid breakdowns and extend their useful life. Preventive maintenance and cleaning will depend to a large extent on the level of production and the equipment. For this reason, it is the company’s technical manager who is responsible for determining the maintenance routines, based on the retort instructions and his/her own experience

Generally speaking, the most important actions for a proper maintenance are: 

- Calibration of the temperature gauge, in relation to the master gauge. 

- Calibration of the master gauge in an external laboratory.

- Verification of the pressure devices and valves.

- Verification of settings and safety latches.

- Lubrication of the chain motor and transmission.

- Inspection of the equipment to spot any wear or cracks and replace parts if necessary. 

By carrying out this set of actions, retort performance will be optimised. In this way, productivity will be increased, obtaining high product quality and reducing the risk of errors, breakdowns and delays in delivery times. 


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