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Industrial Meat Ovens Cook With RFID

Food equipment manufacturer Alkar is offering wireless temperature probes that have helped its customers save on labor, as well as reduce spoilage.
By Claire Swedberg
May 27, 2011Monitoring meat temperatures within industrial ovens—some large enough to hold tens of thousands of pounds of chicken, turkey, beef or ham—can be a tricky affair. Workers can either insert cabled probes into a piece of meat to track its temperature as it cooks and cools, or they can employ standalone non-cabled probes that must be checked manually by opening an oven door and reading the temperature gauges within. Alkar, a cooking and chilling equipment firm, is offering an alternative method with a wireless probe provided by Matrix Product Development (Matrix PD). Thanks to RFID technology, the probe can move down a conveyor without the restriction of cables, allowing temperature data to be sent automatically to a computer that controls the oven, without requiring staff members to open the door.

Since its launch two years ago, the system, known as Wyze-Temp, has enabled food companies to reduce the amount of waste they produce, by ensuring that meat need not be thrown out as a result of an incorrect temperature that remained undetected until it was too late to rectify. Such a failure might have occurred if employees had been using a manual temperature-tracking process, and simply neglected to take a reading soon enough after a temperature had become too warm or cool. The RFID system also reduces the amount of labor required compared with the manual process of checking the internal temperatures of meat within an oven.

The Wyze-Temp wireless sensor
Alkar sells batch and continuous-cooking ovens to companies that cook large quantities of meat (such as deli meats or hot dogs) prior to retail sale. Batch ovens cook meat in a stationary position, and are the size of a typical restaurant oven. Continuous-cooking ovens, on the other hand, transport multiple pieces of meat down a conveyor as they cook, with the meat passing through a variety of heating and cooling zones before the process is complete. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) closely regulates the preparing of meat, and government inspectors visit cooking sites to ensure the proper temperatures are being maintained. Meat companies typically manage those readings themselves, either via cabled or non-cabled probes, and keep a temperature record for select pieces of meat in each batch, often using probes for up to 14 pieces in a single batch.

Alkar offers cabled probes with its ovens, according to Luke Titel, the company's controls engineering manager, but a number of its customers have sought a wireless solution. With cabled probes, he explains, each temperature sensor is wired to the oven's programmable logic controller (PLC). The cables, however, are cumbersome, and can make it difficult for the probes to reach meat from certain angles, or in some portions of an oven. What's more, cabled probes do not work in continuous-cooking ovens, because the wires restrict the probes from traveling along a conveyor.

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