Kosherizing an Agglomerator: They Said It Couldn’t Be Done. They Were Wrong.

One of the complex pieces of equipment used in the food industry today is the agglomerator. This machine is unique because of its high level of versatility, allowing for its many and varied functions. Through the application of dry heat and liquid spray, the agglomerator will effect physical and chemical changes to the texture of the product. The agglomeration process helps to produce a wide range of products: From medicinal herbs to dairy drink mixes, among the kosher products, and chondroitin and glucosamine, among the non-kosher items.

As with all machinery used in the kosher industry, the mashgiach needs to understand both its technical make-up and its processes, to be able to determine its kosherization needs. The agglomerator is comprised of a bottom chamber used for the inlet hot air to enter the agglomerator. This bottom area is covered by a screen used to disperse the hot air evenly to the upper chamber. Above the bottom area, in the upper chamber, is the product bowl. The product is held on a thin mesh screen which sits on a stainless steel screen held up by stainless steel beams. Above the bowl is an open area where liquid is sprayed, through atomizing nozzles, into the agglomerator and onto the product. Even further above that area is the bag house of filters which hold back the product from being pulled out with the hot air exhaust. The hot air is produced by either a heat exchanger or by a direct fire unit, which heats the air, and this air is then introduced into the bottom chamber.

The hot air is pulled through the product by a vacuum that pulls the air out on top. As the hot air goes through the bowl that contains the product, the product rises; a process called fluidizing, by the thrust of the upward movement of the hot air and is sprayed with the liquid that is needed for the agglomeration of the product. As the hot air moves through the upper chamber, it is also causes the evaporation of the excess liquid. The ability for the temperature and humidity to be at variant levels simultaneously in each of its sections is perhaps the most dominant feature of the agglomerator. The chemical make-up of source product and the desired outcome in new product will determine the temperature maintained on its many surfaces at any given time.

The mashgiach will be challenged to identify the presence of the following features in each product:

  • The temperature of the hot air;
  • The CFM (cubic feet per minute) of air flow
  • The rate that the liquid is sprayed in
  • The rate of evaporation which can be adjusted by the temperature of the hot air or the CFM of air flow and spray rate
  • The various different liquids that can be used to affect the agglomeration process.

The inlet temperature can range typically from 110°F – 250°F from one product to another, and the internal product temperature can range typically from 85°F – 150°F. In the kosherization process, it is standard procedure to either fill the equipment with boiling water or apply dry heat of 500°F -1000°F; to do so in an agglomerator, would be to destroy it.

As mentioned, agglomerators can be used for a variety of products. As long as it is used exclusively for kosher pareve products, or exclusively for kosher dairy products, maintaining the kosher program is rather easy. For many years, Powder Processors, an OU certified agglomeration facility in Ogden, Utah, maintained an agglomerator exclusively for kosher pareve products. Maintaining the kosher program was rather simple. However, when the opportunity arose to produce a kosher dairy product on the pareve agglomerator, the challenge began.

Serious questions needed to be answered. Which areas of the agglomerator get hot enough to the point where kosherization would be required? What would be the most practical way to accomplish the kosherization? Could it be done at all? Complications integral to the uniqueness of the agglomeration process arose. Indeed agglomeration facilities are not equipped to boil an abundance of water, nor do they have steam generators accessible. We were stymied by its limitations; but, not for long. Working within the premise, “Were we able to kosherize the equipment, how should we?” the dedicated team at Powder Processors worked out the following solution:

As is the process for the kosherization of most equipment, the first step was to determine the temperature at which each section of the agglomerator is used. To do this, Powder Processors decided to attach Temperature Indicating Labels to all of the areas that may get hot during production. Obviously, the bottom mesh screen upon which the product sits would get hot, since the heat is directly below it. Thus, Powder Processors decided to purchase a new mesh screen and have dedicated parve and dairy mesh screens.

Next, it would be important to ascertain if the areas above this mesh screen get hot. If the areas above the mesh screen do not get hot during the dairy production, no further kosherization would be required beyond replacing the mesh screen. If the areas above the mesh screen do get hot, kosherization would be required. Powder Processors suggested a rather simple solution. They would bring in a burner capable of boiling a large pot (new) with 10 gallons of water. The agglomerator would be preheated to 212°F, and the boiling water would be pumped into the agglomerator and sprayed through the spray nozzles.

By turning the spray nozzles upwards, dispersing boiling water throughout the agglomerator, the spray of boiling water would hit the hot upper walls and the stream flow would run down. Our objective of accessing all heated surfaces which come into contact with hot product through the use of boiling hot water, would be accomplished.

However, a new problem came to the fore at this point in the process. During the spraying stage, a substantial amount of heat is lost, due to evaporation. Once again, a simple solution was found. After the hot water was sprayed in, the agglomerator would be reheated, thereby causing the water that was saturating the walls to boil. The agglomerator would be thoroughly and effectively kosherized. Replacing or washing the bag house or filters to remove any residual product would conclude the process.

Rabbi Yisroel E. Rosskam was born in Brooklyn, NY. He attended Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and Mirrer Yeshiva, and then pursued advanced studies at the famed Beth Medrash Govoha, Lakewood, NJ. For the next five years Rabbi Rosskam continued his advanced studies in Jewish law, concentrating on all areas of kashrut, culminating in his receiving rabbinical ordination. In 1990 he was selected to join the newly established kollel in Denver, CO, where he was also introduced to the kosher certification field.

In 1994, Rabbi Rosskam was appointed as rabbinic field representative by the Scroll K agency. Representing the only kashrut agency within a 600 mile radius, he was also frequently asked to perform inspections on behalf of OU Kosher.

During his continued extensive work in the kosher food industry, Rabbi Rosskam interacted with many of the OU’s rabbinic coordinators, as well as rabbinic field representatives. In 2006, he was appointed Rabbinical Administrator of the Scroll K /Vaad Hakashrus of Denver. He travels throughout the Rocky Mountain Region and beyond inspecting tens of OU certified companies. In his free time you can find him deep into continued study of the Talmud or simply enjoying his family.

OU Kosher Staff