First commercially sold baby food was created by Henri Nestlé when he combined cow milk with sugar and grains. Baby food industry has since grown to offer everything from whole wheat infant cereals to ramen-flavored baby food. From infant formula to fruit puree, choosing the baby food processing equipment is related to the type of baby food you want to make.
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Baby food processing equipment for infant cereals
Infant cereals provide babies with nutrients, iron and various microorganisms for building their immune system. Baby food can be made from a wide range of raw materials such as rice, wheat, oats and other grains.
These grains are cooked and milled into small flakes that can be mixed with milk, water or other liquids to the desired consistency. Manufacturers use a whole array of baby food processing equipment and production lines. For example, steam cookers, industrial grinders, sifters and magnetic separators.
To make high quality infant cereals, harvested grains are rigorously prepped- all possible contaminants are removed and the grains are thoroughly washed. Then, the grains are cooked in steam cookers, until they turn into a slurry. Highly accurate gravimetric dosing systems add valuable minerals and vitamins into the cooked grain slurry. Afterward, the mass is transferred into drum driers to dry and turn the liquid slurry into dry flakes. Rice is one of the most often used grains for infant cereals because it has a low allergen potential and does not contain gluten.
Whole grain vs. refined cereals
There is an ongoing debate on the use of whole grain versus refined cereals for infant food. The key difference between whole grain and refined cereals is the amount of grain’s anatomical components. Whole grains consist of an endosperm, a bran and a germ, while refined cereals consist only of the endosperm. The bran and the germ contain the most fibers, vitamins and minerals of the grain, which means that whole grain cereals have a higher nutritional value than refined cereals. On the other hand, whole grains have more contaminants than refined cereals.
Even though the study suggests that whole grain is more beneficial compared to the refined cereals, baby food manufacturers face the challenge of removing dangerous contaminants such as heavy metals and mycotoxins (toxic chemical products produced by fungi) and arsenic in whole grain rice from whole grain products. Moreover, other issues such as consumer confusion regarding labeling practices and lack of policies on whole wheat intake for infants also have to be resolved by policy makers, researchers and manufacturers.
Fruits, vegetables and meat – how to make baby purees
Filled with important vitamins and minerals, baby purees are made from fruits, vegetables and, sometimes, meat. Like infant cereals, baby purees are recommended for babies aged 6 months or older. Each fruit and vegetable has a different method of preparation before being ground and pureed. Depending on which fruit or vegetable you are using for the baby puree, you need various baby food production lines to wash, peel and grind the vegetable to a pulp with industrial graters.
The prepped fruits or vegetables are then cooked in equipment like vacuum cookers. The vacuum cooker preserves all the natural aromas and flavors of the fruits and vegetables – it cuts down on the cooking time of the ingredients because of the lower boiling temperature. The puree is then pasteurized, which removes any potentially harmful microbes and prolongs the product’s shelf-life.
Baby food regulations and standards
There are some important regulations and international standards set for baby food that you should be aware of. The EU has rigid regulations for pesticide residue, explained in the Commission Directive 2006/125/EC on infant cereals. It prohibits the use of some extremely toxic pesticides like fentin, nitrofen and disulfoton. Moreover, manufacturers of baby food have to comply with the EU laws on hygiene, contamination, the use of food additives and the materials used in the manufacturing process. The directive also sets down rules for labeling – the label includes the energy and nutritional value of the products.
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration has stringent rules under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act) on toxic elements like arsenic, mercury, cadmium and lead in baby cereals and other baby foods. The Act also includes regulations on food allergen controls and sanitation controls. The product’s label must always include nutrition information and serving sizes.