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    Thermal transfer 'garontees' Cajun food pouch printing

A prominent Food & Seasonings company uses thermal-transfer printers in-line with vertical form/fill/seal pouch machines to comprehensively label its Cajun food and seasoning products with ingredient lists, sequential numbering and other information, in a range of foreign characters.

Spreading Cajun flavor from its headquarters to destinations across the globe, the company has spiced up its pouch-printing capabilities to accommodate the detailed and varied information requirements of its foodservice customers. The company operates four production facilities; that between them, produce in excess of 2 million lb per week of frozen Cajun foods and dry-flowable Cajun spices, seasonings and breadings.

Until several years ago, the company was able to meet its customers' on-pack information requirements through the use of a hot stamp coder that applied made-by and use-by dates directly onto film pouchstock. But, with changing labeling laws and with its customers distributing more product overseas, the company needed a more flexible system capable of printing a greater amount of information cleanly and clearly onto the film.

Today the company is using six EasyPrint i 5-in. intermittent-motion in-line thermal-transfer printers from Bell-Mark Corp. in its four manufacturing plants to print product ingredients, lot numbers, batch numbers, expiration dates and more in both English and in foreign characters.

The company specializes in custom formulations for the multiunit foodservice segment. "We have a very unique organization that understands the challenges of both large and mid-size multiunit chains," says the company's president and COO. The company's primary products include various beans, sauces and gravies, dried seasonings, biscuit mix and breadings, all of which are individually formulated to meet customers' unique taste preferences.

Each of the company's four plants specializes in certain product areas. At one location, spices are packaged in 5-lb pouches on flour-packaging machines from General Packaging Equipment Co. ( ), while in the location's small batch cook operation, a Sealed Air ( )Cryovac vertical form/fill/seal machine fills 2- to 5-lb pouches with Creole stew, crawfish etouffee, barbequed black beans and jambalaya. Another location is responsible for processing and packaging the company's 5-lb bags of boil-in-bag red beans, gravies and sauces, packed on two new Cryovac® Onpack Model 2070 vertical pouch packaging systems.

Dry-flowable products, including more than 170 stockkeeping units of flour, salt and spices, are packaged in another location, on Mira-Pak machines from J&J Mfg. Co., Inc. ( ) in pouch sizes ranging from 3.5-oz to 5-lb bags. Still, another location produces salt-based gravies and marinades.

According to the company's director of maintenance and engineering, the advent of new labeling laws spurred the company's change in bag-printing systems. "We could not put product labeling on the packages, which is a requirement with the new rules about allergens," he says. "Product labeling has really gotten a lot stricter and has increased the amount of information that has to be printed on packaging."

While the company considered other printing systems, a company spokesperson stated that one of the reasons it chose the EasyPrint system was due to its ability to apply ink at a high-resolution (300 dpi) that could withstand boil-in-bag product preparation. "We can boil this bag and not lose the printing on it," he explains. "The high-resin ribbon allows the print to stay put."

Another selling point was the EasyPrint's ability to print the largest area of text, along with bar codes, logos and real-time information. The EasyPrint i 5-in. model has a print area of 534 in., which allows the company to add individualized ingredient lists to each run of products, along with an expiration date, and lot and batch numbers that aid in tracing product and processes when there is a problem.

"If foreign material is detected in our product, sequential numbering helps us to determine where in the batch we detected it, and it gives us the ability to focus in on the source very quickly," says a company spokesperson.

Also very important to the company was the EasyPrint's flexibility. In the company's four plants, the system prints on both polyethylene and polypropylene/PE film, and on a range of bag sizes. In one plant, the units are also required to print in multiple languages, as product from that plant is distributed to countries that include Korea, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and others.

The system also provides a very flexible tool for creating and changing label information. New labels are laid out by the company's QA department using Bell-Mark's VersaStyle® thermal-transfer design software. After design, the label information is stored on an OmniDrive (tm) card that is used at the facility where the product is packaged. Changes are made by simply selecting the label from the card and changing the information via a keyboard that comes with the card reader. Programming the printer to print the correct information is even easier: The operator just selects the preprogrammed label file from the card.

"The biggest advantage we have," claims a company spokesperson, "is how quickly and easily we can change the label. And, going from Korean lettering to Arabic lettering to a numeric label all in one day is really a plus."

The printers are mounted on brackets that cross the vertical pouch packaging machines at the point where the film is transferred from the infeed rollers to the forming collar. Maintenance primarily involves wiping down the printheads to keep them clean.

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The biggest maintenance expense, the spokesperson says, results from the boil-in-bag application. "Because we have to run the boil-in-bag system very hot and very clean, we run through about three printheads per year on each machine," he says. While the expense is more than they had anticipated, the cost is still on par with the expense of the company's previous printing methods.

Productivity is right on track, too, as the EasyPrint allows the vf/f/s machines to operate at their top-rated speed of 36 pouches/min.

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