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Stainless steel wire in food processing

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Stainless Steel Wires, as one of the generic stainless steel products, find numerous applications in food processing. Indeed, stainless steels have long ago established themselves as the materials of choice for almost all food processing and storage equipment.

What attributes make stainless steels so eminently suitable?

First and foremost, it is their corrosion resistance which makes them ideal for food contact, provided that the proper grades are used in view of the possible aggressive content of some foods, mostly salt presence. If home cooking is included, food processing is estimated to encompass close to 50 % of all stainless steel wire usages. We will concentrate here on the 2 main segments “industrial“ and ”professional“, as follows:

“Industrial” food processing: this large domain of applications goes from the upstream crop processing to the booming industrial areas of meat, dairy, cheese and cooked edible products, whether for animal feeds or, more or less extensively processed, food products for human consumption. On the upstream, wire mesh grids are used to screen agricultural raw products from grain to vegetables and fruit where calibration is a must and finer wire mesh are used for filtering primary juices such as olive oil, fruit juices. In the downstream, many uses of stainless wire baskets, trays, racks are found in meat and cheese processing, as well as hooks made of formed stainless steel wire. Also, wires woven, crimped or straight & cut, are the choice in many conveyor belt systems used for food processing and transfer. Grade selection is obviously a must with prevalence of the austenitic grades 304, 316 (if presence of salty mixtures or brine, etc…) and sometimes 314 (heat resistant grade). Cable trays made of stainless wire baskets are also a common use all through the “food chain” of industrial processing.

“Professional“ food processing: though the limit between industrial and professional is not clear cut, “professional” correspond to food processors in direct contact with end consumers, such as bakeries, butcheries, delicatessen shops , fish markets, restaurants (regular, fast food ). As to be expected, one will find there the same types of usages as in industrial, but on smaller scale and different product mix: for instance, prevalence of racks for display to customers and cold storage, formed wire in mid-size mixers, cooking racks for ovens, wire baskets for strainers and also specific applications such as formed wire for transfer trolleys. Fast food outlets have generated a large use of frying baskets for French fries, most often electropolished 304 formed wire of so-called “EPQ” quality. Also, the wineries use routinely stainless wire mesh for filtering purpose, all through the wine making process.

In summary, food processing is a key area of use of stainless wire or wire mesh. Beyond the prime aspect of resistance to corrosion and well established “food compatibility”, austenitic stainless steel wire also brings its unique mechanical properties: easy conformation and strain induced high strength. Also noteworthy is the need for proper cleaning and upkeep of stainless steel in food processing equipments.

Contributed by Philippe Maitrepierre – Doctor of Science (PhD) in Materials

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