Hot pot (literal meaning in Chinese: ‘fire pot’) is one of the most popular dishes in China. As with fondue, various ingredients are cooked directly at the table and then enjoyed with dipping sauces. Traditionally, hot pot restaurants put the dips together according to individual customer wishes. This is a very time-consuming and detailed job for which the restaurants have to comply with strict hygiene regulations. With the help of automation technology, they can fill their serving dishes quickly and hygienically.
In a restaurant there are numerous metal pots with steaming broth on the tables; the pots are heated either with a gas flame or electrically. The guests successively place meat, leaf vegetables, mushrooms, egg dumplings, seafood, tofu, and so on, in the boiling liquid. When an item is cooked, they take it out with a scoop and chopsticks and season it with various dipping sauces. That is what a typical meal in a Chinese hot pot restaurant looks like.
Depending on their personal taste, guests can order a wide variety of ingredients. The restaurant staff cut these by hand into wafer-thin slices, place them in the different sections of a serving dish and then fill in the desired dips. This is very complex but still has to be quick and hygienic. With the help of an automation solution, the dipping sauces can now be put together easily and quickly for the individual customer orders.
Automated to make the right mix
The automated filling process involves several steps: the serving dish runs on a conveyor belt to the dosing station. There, a mechanism stops it and positions it under several filling nozzles. The dish is then lifted to prevent splashing. The nozzles fill the sections with the various dips based on the customer’s order. The dish is continually turned in the process. Finally, a ‘drip plate’ moves forward. Residues which might drip out of the nozzles after the filling process are collected here.
Maximum food safety and hygiene
Hygiene is the be-all and end-all for the automated assembly of hot pot ingredients. For the components used in the dosing station, the focus is therefore on a hygienic design. Smooth surfaces ensure that no microbial contamination occurs. Very small radii and corners of less than three millimetres are also avoided, as these could easily lead to sources of infection.
For safe cleaning, the materials must also not react to cleaning agents or disinfectants. The machine parts are resistant to corrosion and are mechanically and chemically stable. This applies both to the material of the actuator unit and to interface components such as connections and seals – so that the automation solution can put together the right mix of dips for a long time to come.