Bagels By The Millions

Harlan Bakeries’ 260,000-sq-ft. plant in Avon, Ind., is a well-oiled machine. Production at the plant runs 24 hours a day, five to six days a week. Each week, the bakery produces millions of bagels, ranging from 1-oz. minis to 5-oz. pieces and everything from soft or chewy ones to plain and everything varieties.
To keep the bakery running, Harlan uses a predictive maintenance software program to schedule what projects should be repaired or replaced on the weekend. The bakery has invested millions of dollars in adding redundant systems to minimizing downtime. It’s also installed back-up mixers, air compressors, flour silos, flour sifters and ammonia compressors for its freezer.
The company even put in a large generator that can run the plant and holding freezer in case of a power outage. With the larger holding freezer, Harlan can’t afford to be without power for a prolonged period.
On average, the bakery uses about 1.2 million lb. of flour each week. Flour is stored in five, 110,000-lb. silos, with two more in storage to meet future capacity. Harlan also has added a rail spur that holds up to 10, 200,000-lb. carloads of flour at a time. The plant houses a liquid sugar system, as well. Minor and micro ingredients are pre-batched in a premix room. In accordance with good manufacturing practices (GMP), Harlan Bakeries segregates allergen-based materials from point of receipt through to finished product distribution.
To monitor production, the bakery uses a computer system with supervisory controls to monitor time, temperatures, cripples, amount of flour used, scheduling and more. At critical control points throughout the plant, computers housed in protective, blue SPC stations allow operators to download production and quality control information. The network provides an airtight system that tracks production from logging lot numbers of ingredients to using bar-coding to monitor the storage and distribution of final products. The system allows for total product recall capability. The bakery conducts a mock product recall every three months.
Throughout the process, operators, not lab technicians, monitor quality control. It’s all part of the bakery’s accredited Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) program. However, the bakery has a quality-control laboratory that conducts shelf-life tests and bakes off samples of products the next day. It also does microbial inspection of equipment to ensure proper sanitation.
Overall, production of par-baked and fully baked frozen bagels is located at one end of the plant, while frozen unbaked bagels are produced at the other. All production flows toward the center, which houses a massive cooling and packaging room.
On the frozen unbaked bagel line, five 2,000-lb. over-tilt mixers are needed to feed the line. The central HVAC keeps the dough makeup departments at 72°F year-round.
After mixing, dough batches ranging from 1,800 to 2,400 lb. are dumped into troughs, which are elevated up to the divider hoppers. In all, the three lines can produce 40 bagels at a time, or about 8,500 dozen bagels an hour. The dough-balls travel on finger conveyors and converge at the intermediate proofer before resting for about 10 to 12 minutes. They then drop into a vertical bagel former system. Here, the pieces fall from the intermediate proofer through tubular chutes similar to those found on tortilla lines. Afterward, the formed products are conveyed to a spiral proofer. Because the bakery co-packs for major foodservice chains, the process from proofing and retarding to blast freezing is proprietary at the request of the Harlans.
After the bagels are frozen, they’re packaged in a manner more reminiscent of cookies or salted snacks than bakery products. Frozen pieces are dumped in a packaging bin and then elevated up four-by-four aligners and dumped in one of five scaler/counters. Thirty pieces drop into form/fill/seal bags, which are heat-sealed, pass through metal detection and are loaded four to a case, which was automatically assembled. The packaging room also houses bulk packing systems. After labeling and tape sealing, the cartons are robotically palletized, shrink-wrapped and conveyed to the holding freezer.