The Pasta Process: Mass Manufacturing in Food and Beverages
If you’ve ever visited Rochester, NY – the home of Re:Build Optimation – you likely know that some of the best Italian Food outside of New York City is found right here. From Mr. Dominic’s to Antoinetta’s for a business lunch, or to Ronconne’s and The Northside Inn, Rochesterians know what good pasta is because we have it often. Even then, the best pasta is often the one placed under the 3-day stewed red sauce (gravy if you’re really old school) made by your spouse with love and great care. Ironically, what’s under that sauce is likely store-bought pasta that was mass manufactured. And, since we’re all about manufacturing, we totally have to talk about it!
The industrial process of mass-manufacturing pasta is a complex and intricate process that requires a number of steps and a variety of machines and ingredients. Pasta has been a popular food item for centuries, and it is produced in large quantities all over the world.
To appreciate mass manufacturing of a favorite food – pasta – we should start by taking a look at how to make it at home.
Consider the following, seemingly simple process, for home pasta making:
– 2 cups all-purpose flour
– 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
– 3 large eggs
– 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Place the flour and salt in a medium bowl and mix together.
- Make a well in the center of the flour and add the eggs and olive oil.
- Using a fork, mix the ingredients together until it forms a dough.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
- Cover the dough with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes.
- Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1/8 inch thick.
- Cut the dough into strips of desired width.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta.
- Cook the pasta for about 2 to 3 minutes, until it is al dente.
- Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking liquid, and serve.
Simple enough, right?
The industrial process of mass-manufacturing pasta involves the same steps, from the initial preparation of the dough to the packaging of the final product. As you can guess, the difference is scale.
Step 1: INGREDIENTS to DOUGH
The first step in mass-manufacturing pasta is the preparation of the dough. This involves mixing different types of flour, water, salt, and sometimes other ingredients such as eggs or oil. Different types of flours, such as semolina, durum wheat, and whole wheat, can be used to create different types of pastas. In the case of our home recipe, we have merely four ingredients – flour, salt, eggs and oil. Imagine what it takes to get tons of flour, salt and oil prepared to insert into a dough batch in the right amounts. There’s a definite process to material handling and mixing that must, but something to consider is eggs. A key difference between home baking and manufacturing pasta is the choice of how egg is applied to a recipe. For industrial food manufacturing, eggs are processed into powders. That process, which is likely done on a different manufacturing line, is done by separating egg yolks from the whites, pasteurizing, homogenizing and/or drying them. The pasteurization process kills any bacteria that might be present, while the homogenization process breaks down the fat molecules in the egg yolk, making them easier to blend with other ingredients. The whites can also be dried and turned into a powder for use in baking and other recipes. Naturally, since moisture has been removed from the egg, water or another moisturizing agent is likely going to be needed for creating the dough.
Now, at-home dough can be mixed by hand if you’re built like Popeye or in a more likely situation you have a home stand mixer like the famed KitchenAid brand. An industrial dough kneading machine typically consists of large-scale elements that are similar to a home stand mixer. A massive bowl, a kneading arm, and a motor are the key parts. The bowl is typically made of food-grade stainless steel, and the kneading arm is usually made of cast iron or aluminum. The motor can be either an electric motor or a hydraulic motor. The motor is used to power the kneading arm and could be either direct drive or connected to the bowl via a drive chain or belt. In batch manufacturing settings, the kneading is usually adjustable to accommodate different dough types and sizes. In settings where mass manufacturing requires dedicated production lines, there may be fewer if any modifications available in the kneading system.
Step 2: REST and EXTRUDE
Once pasta dough is kneaded, it is left to rest for a period of time before it is ready for extrusion. Extrusion is a process used to shape materials by forcing them through a die or mold. In most cases, material is heated and forced through the die, where it takes the shape of the die cavity. This process is used to create a variety of shapes, such as rods, tubes, angles, and other complex shapes. It is commonly used in the manufacturing of plastic and metal products. Given the highly shaped nature of modern pasta, extrusion is quite clearly the ideal process for shaping dough into your next meal.
In the pasta dough extrusion process, the dough is passed through a number of machines that transform it into the desired shape. The machines can produce strands of spaghetti, fusilli, rotini, elbows, ziti, pene, and many other shapes of pasta. (Do your kids eat Campbell’s Princess Soup? Pasta is even coming in Elsa the Ice Queen shapes now!) The machines also have a number of blades that can be used to cut the dough into different sizes.
Step 3: DRYING
Once the pasta has been extruded, it then needs to be dried. This is done by passing the pasta through a series of drying machines that remove the excess moisture and make the pasta shelf-stable. When making pasta to dry and keep from a home setting, the process for drying includes the following steps:
- First, spread it out in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Second, bake in a preheated oven at 200 °F for about 10 minutes, or until the pasta is completely dry.
- Then, allow the pasta to cool completely before transferring it to an airtight container or jar.
The drying process in a manufacturing setting includes a similar process of low-heat moisture removal and aggregation into pre-packaging containers so that the dried pasta can be packaged.
Step 4: PACKAGING
Packaging pasta involves sealing the pasta in airtight bags or containers. The packaging can be done by hand in boutique, or batch-processing, environments but manufacturing at scale requires machine automation to accomplish timely, repeatable, and low-to-no error packaging.
The packaging also needs to be designed to protect the pasta from environmental factors such as light and heat. In most situations, packaging is not manufactured on the same site as food manufacturing, but it may be the case that boxes are assembled through the automation process. When using bags, their sealing is also ideally done as part of an automated packaging process performed on-site.
Once the packaging is complete, the pasta is ready for shipping and sale.
The industrial process of mass-manufacturing pasta is a complex and intricate process that requires a number of steps and a variety of machines and ingredients. It is a process that has been perfected over many years and is now used to produce vast quantities of pasta all over the world. The process is highly efficient and can produce high-quality pasta that is safe to eat and has a long shelf-life.
Re:Build Optimation can design, spec, fabricate, and install any and all aspects of a manufacturing line such as pasta manufacturing. From the metalwork that is required to shape vats for dough kneading to extrusion machine design, fabrication, and installation, we can do it all. And, consider the need for quality control in all of this. The intake of data, testing of product aspects of size, shape and moisture levels, weights, and measures including object counting all can be planned and deployed by our engineering teams. Optimation has done a lot of work with Barilla, a well-known pasta manufacturer. All of their pasta machines for US manufacturing are imported from Italy. There is a good reason for that.
Pasta is fun to talk about, but we’re not specifically pasta experts. Optimation is your expert for all needs in manufacturing. From pilot to scale-up, from repair and maintenance to design-build, we can help you take your food and beverage product manufacturing ideas and needs and make them a reality.
Pasta is only one of many great foods. And most of them are sold at Wegman’s, a well known national brand with headquarters in Rochester, NY. Everyone who knows Wegman’s loves Wegman’s. Years ago, Wegman’s had a large egg farm and raised chickens to produce the eggs sold in their supermarkets. We won the contract to put an automated feeding system in the egg farm for two million hens. It was a food factory that wasn’t exactly like a normal factory. We learned a lot about laying hens, like the type of music they like and the color and intensity of the light that led to higher production.
And pasta dough is not the only great use for dough. Dough can be used to make great doughnuts! We had an opportunity a few years ago to upgrade the control system for a large bakery. This company had the contract to make the dough and fillings for one of the largest doughnut chains in the country. The control system was old, obsolete and difficult to maintain. The largest challenge was timing. The product had a shelf life of two weeks. The plant had to go down, be upgraded with new controllers and wiring, brought back up, tested and validated in less than two weeks. Then we designed the new system, built a simulation for it and pretrained the production operators, ran conduit where we could, and prepared for a short shutdown. Crews worked two shifts and through the weekend to complete it on time.
There are lots of food plants in and around Rochester. These include yogurt, cheese and cereal. One of our favorite food clients it Once Again Nut Butter. They are a Rochester regional company, and they make the best organic peanut butter in the country. We had the privilege of designing and building their expanded organic peanut butter plant and a state-of-the-art manufacturing process.
Browse Re:Build Optimation’s website and send us a message to talk to us about your next project.