Stepping up to the plate: GEA’s complete solution for chicken nuggets

The global processed food industry is expected to experience significant growth in the next few years as meal consumption behaviour amongst consumers is shifting drastically.*  Convenience foods like chicken nuggets remain extremely popular, with many people choosing this classic meal when they are pressed for time or for on-the-go consumption.

Meeting the demand for one of the world’s most popular fast food items takes a lot of nuggets, which is where GEA has stepped up to the plate. GEA is now offering a completely automated line solutions that can process tons of them per hour, taking only six minutes for a nugget to complete the production line.

One of the world’s leading suppliers of high-tech food processing equipment, GEA has perfected technology that takes the product from meat delivery through grinding, mixing, forming, coating, cooking, frying and freezing in one seamless, fully automatic process. The result – perfectly formed crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, golden chicken nuggets that go down a treat with consumers.

GEA offers a complete data-connected production set-up that ensures consistent high-quality products making efficient use of resources, energy and labor in meat manufacturing. Key to the whole process is the GEA MaxiFormer that features a unique step-fill system which fills each cavity consistently to ensure excellent shape retention without peaks on the filling or wastage from smearing.

Explaining the benefits for food manufacturers of having a single supplier of all the production equipment needed to process chicken nuggets, Luuc van Lankveld, GEA’s Product Expert on Processing said: “Having different suppliers means that the customer is responsible for the integration of the machines in the line. We can provide a complete solution, taking that stress away and saving manufacturers time and money.”

Leading supplier of cooked chicken products Danpo installed its first fully automated chicken nugget line at its plant in Farre, Denmark. Product Technical Manager Per Ulrik Jørgensen commented, “with GEA delivering all the equipment on the line we knew for sure that each element would fit together and be compatible and the step-filling feature means that we can run with a slightly higher temperature on the meat prior to forming so we also save on energy costs.”

For tempura coated nuggets, getting the mixture just right so as to achieve that vital crisp and crunchy texture is a fine art. The nuggets need to be cooked perfectly from start to finish to prevent them from sticking together, and consistently ensuring the correct cooking temperature throughout the process is essential in preventing the delicate coating from becoming soggy, leading to food waste.

GEA prides itself on being a tempura coating expert, with equipment such as the TempuMixer and a specially designed fryer handling this delicate process with ease. In conjunction with the MaxiFormer, the system is capable of running continuously for up to 40 hours with very little supervision, meaning staff can be deployed on other tasks.

The formed and coated nuggets are flash fried — GEA’s frying equipment is designed to meet the highest food safety standards – before going through the GEA CookStar three-phase spiral oven, where steam and heat are added. Steam contains a lot of latent heat and is therefore very effective in transferring energy into the nugget. Due to the higher humidity less moisture is lost, therefore producing higher yields.

The freezing processes are also extremely temperature-sensitive, with batches of chicken nuggets frozen to minus 18 degrees Celsius, for distribution and further cooking.

Having a fully automated line with equipment from one supplier reduces potential production issues as the manufacturer knows that each element of the line fits together and is compatible, which is important to ensure fast installation and reliability right from the start to the end of the whole process.

In addition to supplying the equipment, GEA’s food technologists are on hand to provide customer support and guidance that takes the guesswork away. Luuc commented: “Everything is important. The mixing of ingredients, the cooking temperatures, the way you apply the coating to ensure that satisfying crispy crunch, feel and taste. As a solution provider we know the business from A to Z and employ food technologists to help meet specific customer requirements and optimize the whole process.”

*Source: Convenience Food Market – Global Industry Analysis 2015 – 2019 and opportunity assessment; 2020 – 2030