IDAHO FALLS — Everyone knows potatoes are one of Idaho’s largest exports, but they aren’t just leaving the state in potato sacks.
Spuds are exported in a variety of forms — and one of the most popular is as dehydrated flakes.
Idaho Steel, a company in Idaho Falls that manufactures food processing equipment, has the world’s largest drum dryer. Jon Christensen, the company’s sales and marketing director, tells EastIdahoNews.com the drum dryer is an 8-foot by 21-foot tube filled with steam that prepares potatoes for dehydration.
“It receives mashed potato from the rest of the processing line and applies a very thin layer … a smaller applicator (then) rolls on the surface of the drum. As that comes around, it comes to a sharp knife that will cut that off into sheets of potato flakes. It almost looks like sheets of paper,” Christensen says.
The drum dryer then grinds the sheets down into flakes sized according to the customer’s specifications. Once the flakes are fully dehydrated, it’s packaged for sale in stores or used to make other products like chips, french fries or hash browns.
“The better we can transfer the heat of the steam to the potato, the quicker we can dry and the higher the capacity,” says Christensen. “This is a new design with some new technology in it that is doing some amazing things. It’s the holy grail of drum dryers right now.”
The drum dryer is part of a complete potato production line consisting of sorting, peeling, cutting, blanching, cooling and cooking equipment. Though other companies use drum dryers to process potatoes, Idaho Steel owns the largest one in the world and uses it to serve clients and customers across the globe.
In 1996, Idaho Steel formed a partnership with Kiremko, a European-based manufacturer of food processing equipment, to offer a full-scale production process.
“Kiremko builds some of the machines and we build some, but our machines (are) complementary. So by intermingling their machines with ours, we could (offer the full production process from start to finish),” says Christensen.
“We design and build fryers,” Kiremko Deputy Director Marcel van Huissteden says. “But Idaho Steel can also build fryers for us in America. So that’s how (we’re able) to cover the whole world.”
The global potato market has been steadily climbing over the last several years, van Huissteden says, and that has contributed to international growth.
“China is starting to process more and more potatoes. They currently have a lot of rice, but (the production process is harder and more expensive), so they are changing from rice to potatoes,” he says. “At this moment, we are seeing an increase of sending machines to China, and we use machines from Idaho Steel to set up in China.”
Idaho Steel celebrated its 100th year of business last year. In the early days, it only produced potato harvesting equipment but later grew to produce other food processing equipment. Today, Idaho Steel employs about 300 people.
“We love taking the Idaho name around the world. We’ve been asked before why keep (the name) Idaho Steel. But we do it because Idaho is synonymous with potatoes,” Christensen says.
Christensen says they’re always looking for talented people to join their team and help feed the world. If you’d like to apply, send a resume to HR@idahosteel.com.
LEARN HOW THE DRUM DRYER WORKS IN THE VIDEO ABOVE.