A reoccurring question we get at Provac from family and friends is “what is a vacuum pump, and what is it used for?”. Although unfamiliar to much of the general population, vacuum pumps a crucial part of manufacturing processes which bring many of the items people use every single day. The Holidays are no exception. Your Thanksgiving meal, for example, has several components that required vacuum pumps to make such as the turkey, the oven it was cooked in, the table it sits on, and the side of mashed potatoes! Let’s dig in to learn more.
Vacuum bagging of fresh meat, like turkey, is common practice now, but it was not always how meat was delivered from the farm to the consumer. In the vacuum bagging process, the meat product is placed in a plastic bag. Inert air such as nitrogen might be introduced to extend the product’s freshness, and then a vacuum is pulled in the bag which seals in the meat and wraps the meat in the plastic bag. The vacuum bagging prevents contaminants from getting into the product and extends shelf life before it is consumed.
Many components of your household oven are created with vacuum pumps including the knobs, electrical components, light bulbs and walls. The walls for example are typically vacuum sealed, so that the outside of the oven does not get as hot as the inside of the oven. In this process a double-sided wall would be created with a pocket in between. The empty pocket in between the two walls would be hooked up to a vacuum pump which would remove all particles and matter from the cavity. The cavity is then sealed and the area in between the two walls would maintain the vacuum which provides excellent thermal protection. With less atoms inside the cavity energy (heat) cannot be transferred as quickly between the inside of the oven to the outside, which provides a much safer cooking environment.
If you have a wooden dining room table it most likely has a wood veneer on it. Wood veneers are used to put a nicer looking wood layer on top of cheaper internal wood to mask the difference in quality. Wood veneers are very thin layers of high quality wood which can be glued or laminated to the tables. In the lamination process the thin layer of veneer is placed on top of the table top, then then the wooden top is bagged and a vacuum is applied. In the vacuum bagging process the veneer is “sucked” into the layer of wood beneath and the glue sticking them together has better adhesion. This also helps to remove any air bubbles or wrinkles between the two layers which helps to create a seamless look.
Lastly, mashed potatoes. While we hope you don’t have to resort to mashed potato flakes for your holiday dinner, potato flakes for instant mashed potatoes provide a quick and easy way to create the side dish. Potato flakes are typically made by freeze drying potatoes, and the freeze-drying process utilizes vacuum pumps. In freeze drying the specimen, in this case potatoes, are arranged in layers on freeze drying trays. The items are frozen quickly in flash freezers which helps to maintain the cellular shape. After freezing, vacuum is applied to the trays. Under vacuum, the frozen water sublimates and flashes off removing moisture from the product without going into the liquid state, which also helps to maintain the cellular shape and texture of the product. The freeze dried goods are removed from the ovens and are ready to bag for the consumer.
Whether enjoying a turkey or tofurkey dinner, vacuum pumps are something to be thankful for in this modern world we live in.