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The Pie and Pastry Filling Picture


February 2003
Culinary Caonnection


The Pie and Pastry Filling Picture

By Allen Skillicorn
Contributing Editor

Fruit fillings and other fillings for pastries and pies may seem simple enough. But when the equation changes from Mom making a single cherry pie to the tons of fillings that large-scale commercial production needs, it can get complicated.

A variety of factors influence the formulas of pies and pastry fillings: flavor, texture, moisture, flowability, freeze/thaw stability, shelf life, appearance, the amount of visible fruit, Brix (the percent of sugars or solutes in solution), pH and titratable acid, and microbial concerns.

Fillings for pastries and pies require the following attributes, which can make the formulation and manufacturing processes challenging:
• A good, natural-tasting product.
• A “clean,” consumer-friendly ingredient label, with no unappealing chemical names.
• Reasonable shelf life, which means the filling exhibits good microbial stability and control of moisture loss. This can be achieved by controlling water activity (aw), pH and microbial load, and by adding chemical preservatives, such as potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate. Normally, the lower the aw, the longer the shelf life of the filling. Proper processing and packaging are also musts.
• Viscosity control for the filling once it is placed in a container. This provides pumpability from the product container to the processing line and correct flowability of the filling when the product is placed in the oven.
• Water-activity control, to minimize ice-crystal formation and provide freeze/thaw stability for frozen products.

Filling fabrication
Each filling has different requirements, depending on the customer’s demands and the manufacturer’s capabilities. Doughnuts that are filled after frying, stored for a few days at room temperature and then consumed have no need for a filling that has heat- or freeze/thaw stability. However, an apple-pie filling that is formed and filled; baked; frozen; thawed; possibly rebaked; and then served requires oven-stability, freeze/thaw-stability and texture control. This is so the pie remains intact when cut and the filling retains “fresh-made” characteristics.

Cookie-bar fruit fillings require a firm consistency to hold their shape in the finished product, and low aw to provide extended shelf life and minimize moisture migration. These typically need to be formulated with dehydrated fruit, such as low-moisture apples (24% moisture) or similar products, to achieve a low finished-product moisture level. A dehydrated fruit greatly increases the viscosity and prevents “boil out” during baking. Many dehydrated fruits are treated with sulfur dioxide or bisulfite to prevent enzymatic browning.

The type of fruit selected, the amount used and its process characteristics, as well as cost restrictions, all affect how the finished filling will look and taste. In addition to dehydrated forms, bulk frozen fruit or individually quick frozen (IQF) fruit pieces can be added to fillings. IQF processing provides a product that most closely approaches fresh; the freezing process takes place relatively quickly, minimizing fruit tissue damage by ice crystals. Frozen versions may come packaged as 100% fruit or as a sugar-added type, such as a 5+1 form (five parts fruit and one part sugar). The added sugar helps prevent ice-crystal formation, decreasing damage to the fruit’s structure. Sugar can help protect the fruit’s texture by depressing the freezing point. This prevents the fruit cells from being frozen, protects against oxidation and provides flavor. The higher sugar level reduces the amount of time required for the solids in the finished filling to reach equilibrium. It affects the specific gravity of the fruit pieces, which aids in their dispersion.

Fruit — whether it’s fresh off the tree, frozen 5+1, or dehydrated — adds flavor, texture and natural nutrients. However, it is a natural ingredient, so it can vary in size and quality. To create a consistent product, manufacturers may have to make adjustments during production. Any changes, such as blending the fruit or fruit concentrate; adding sugars, acids or buffers; or using artificial colors to adjust the product’s color, must fall within legal guidelines. This is important, particularly since, in the past, questionable practices in regard to concentrates and purees have been employed. This is much less the case now with the improvements made in analytical chemistry.

Making the grade
The USDA has established U.S. grade standards as measures of quality for many canned and frozen fruits. USDA provides an inspection service, which certifies the quality of processed fruit on the basis of these U.S. grading standards. These descriptions were taken from USDA.

U.S. Grade A or U.S. Fancy fruits are the very best quality, with excellent color, and uniform size, weight and shape. Having the proper ripeness and few or no blemishes, fruits of this grade are excellent to use for special purposes where appearance, size and flavor are important. Fruit of this grade is the most flavorful and attractive — and the most expensive. Much of the fruit processed into fillings is U.S. Grade B or U.S. Choice. Only slightly less perfect than Grade A in color, uniformity and texture, these fruits are of very good quality, have a good flavor and are suitable for most uses. U.S. Grade C or U.S. Standard fruits vary more in taste and appearance than the higher grades, and have a lower cost. They are used where color and texture are not of great importance, such as in pastry fillings that do not show piece identity, jams, preserves, tarts and cobblers. They can also be processed into fruit concentrates. A significant difference in price may exist between the different grades, depending on supply and demand.

If the manufacturer is going to produce an apple pie with big, visible apple pieces and the costs are recoverable, Grade A or fancy-grade apples should be used. Conversely, it is cost-prohibitive to use the same apples in a fast-food apple-pie-type product. Basically an apple filling contained in a pastry coating, this type of inexpensive product satisfies the consumer’s hunger and sweet tooth, but doesn’t require visible fruit pieces. Grade B or Grade C apples are more than adequate in this type of application.

It is possible to use some apple-juice concentrate derived from Grade C apples for flavor. These concentrates are not derived from “spoiled” fruit, but are extracted from fruit that does have defects. After juicing and evaporating, however, little difference will exist between the concentrates juiced from Grade A apples and those of the Grade C variety.

The least-expensive and lower-grade fruits are processed into fruit-juice concentrate. Large amounts of apples and pears are converted to fruit concentrates. Natural and inexpensive, fruit concentrates retain their flavor but are in liquid form, consisting of water, sugar, acids, flavor and some color. During concentrate processing, the moisture is evaporated out in multistage evaporators. The aroma or essence of the fruit is condensed out; concentrate suppliers can add the aroma back to the concentrate or sell the essence separately.

Developers may also find size classifications used in connection with the grade. For example, in the case of cultivated blueberries, extra large has less than 90 berries/cup (250 ml); large is 90 to 129 berries/cup; medium is 130 to 189 berries/cup; and for small blueberries, 190 to 250 berries/cup. (It should also be noted that wild blueberries are more flavorful, though they are smaller than cultivated blueberries.)

Apples are relatively inexpensive, a good fruit for fillings and used by the food industry in great quantities. The U.S. crop is picked in the late summer or fall. Apples receive a wash in dilute sodium-hydroxide solution to clean and remove any pesticide residues. The apples are then graded and sorted.

Through storage in a modified atmosphere, the shelf life of apples can be extended before they undergo processing. The oxygen content of the atmosphere is reduced and the carbon-dioxide level increased, which slows down the apples’ respiration. The temperature is reduced to 32º F and the relative humidity is increased to 90%.

After peeling, coring and slicing, most apples destined for canning, freezing or evaporation are treated with sodium sulfite, or a mixture of erythorbic acid, citric acid and salts (sulfite alternative). Large amounts of apples are sluiced and put through a drying oven, where the moisture is reduced to 22% to 26%. These apple pieces, called low-moisture apple dices or granules, come in many different sizes. The dehydrated fruit can be treated with antioxidants, such as sulfites and erythorbic acid. Low-moisture apples are relatively inexpensive, and store and ship well. They find themselves in everything from pies to relatively inexpensive pastry fillings where particle identity is not important.

Fill ‘er up
Some fruit fillings require added flavor to make up for that which is lost or altered in processing, to give the product a different character, or to make up for a low fruit content. Flavors, whether natural, natural and artificial (N&A) or artificial, should mimic the fruit being represented as closely as possible. The characteristic aroma of the particular fruit used should also be present; in some cases, this may relate to the amount of essence returned to the fruit concentrate. Remember that the flavor requirement is customer-driven. An extremely inexpensive product has a different requirement versus a premium product that can allow for additional flavor costs. Artificials and N&As are typically more cost-effective, and often provide better process carry-through and shelf life than naturals, but they may not be acceptable on the label of a high-end or natural-market product. In most cases, however, an N&A flavor offers the best of all worlds. It gives the flavor chemist a chance to incorporate compounds that accent flavor notes and aromas, which could be impossible to derive from an all-natural flavor — and do so at a reasonable price. Natural flavors can taste just as good as artificial flavors and are more label-friendly.

Each component of the whole system adds to the flavor. The flavor, sweeteners and acid bite all combine to make eating the pie or pastry a pleasure. For each fruit-based filling type, a certain ratio may exist between the titratable acidity and Brix. In nature, different fruits have a normal Brix-to-acid ratio. If this is off, the product may taste different. For example, due to variation in type and the time of year that oranges are harvested, the fruit’s ratio may vary. Using blends of different types of oranges or adding citric acid may eliminate this problem.

The filling should have a characteristic fruit flavor, with good mouth-clearing properties and no artificial or chemical aftertaste. A good balance — combining the sweetness of natural and added sugars, and the tart taste of acid — helps bring out a full fruit flavor. Adding sugar reduces an acid’s tartness.

Adding acid
The acid bite of a filling has a significant impact on the flavor. Fruit is normally acidic and the customer expects this taste in a fruit-filled pie or pastry. The product designer has several choices to adjust this acidity beyond the acids contributed by the fruit. Nonfruit filling also can require acids to provide the right flavor, as well as aid shelf life. Sometimes, a combination of two or more acids has advantages. Acidic, or sour, taste enhances other flavors and suppresses bitterness.

Citric acid and malic acid are the acidulants normally used in fruit fillings, but formulations can contain other acids to create the desired effect. Each has a different flavor-release profile. Citric acid has a sharp, clean acid bite that quickly dissipates. This makes it well-suited for a citrus-type flavor, but it can work in a wide variety of fruit types. Malic acid is often used for apple-flavored products and is found naturally in the fruit (malic means “apple” in Latin). Its taste builds up and diminishes slowly. Tartaric acid, used in small amounts to bring out grape flavors, produces a strong, tart taste. Lactic acid is used in sour-cream or cream-cheese filling for a number of reasons: it may be slightly better at lowering the pH with less acid bite than the other organic acids; it is also the acid most associated with dairy notes, giving a mildly acidic taste with no sharpness. Phosphoric acid, which can be used in Bavarian cream fillings, has a flat taste. This acid is not sharp, is slightly bitter and very effective at lowering pH. Adipic acid has a delayed acid impact and lingering high tartness.

An important relationship between the pH of a filling and the total titratable acid exists that can affect the taste of the final ingredient. As the pH decreases, the total titratable acid increases. A pH meter will read the pH of a filling, but does not provide a reading for the total acid in a product. The product’s total titratable acid is measured by the titration of the acid with a standard solution of sodium hydroxide (0.05N).

However, the pH may be changed by natural buffers in the fruit or the addition of protein, sodium citrate, or preservatives. When buffers, such as sodium citrate, are added, it buffers, or raises, the pH. This creates a taste that is not as sharp, but is more well-rounded. Preservatives are normally more effective at a lower pH.

Preservative systems may contain chemicals, such as sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate. While these preservatives are synthesized industrially, they also occur in nature. For example, sodium benzoate is found naturally in cranberries in the form of benzoic acid. Sodium benzoate is used in products in a low pH range — the same range that fruit-based products normally fall into. It is considered effective at and below pH 3.8. Potassium sorbate is normally used at a higher pH range, and is effective at and below pH 4.3. These preservatives are effective against molds and yeasts, but less so against bacteria. Manufacturers should first dissolve these preservatives in water before acids are added. Preservatives are the least-soluble ingredient when added to a mix that contains acid, such as those found in the fruit or those added to the mixture.

Sweetening the deal
Nutritive sweeteners, such as corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and sugar, and artificial sweeteners, such as acesulfame-K, can sweeten the filling. Corn syrup is normally employed because of its low cost. The sugar and other sweeteners raise the solids and extend the shelf life by acting as a preservative. They help prevent the oxidation of flavor oils and other flavor compounds by excluding oxygen and changing aw, which changes chemical reactions. They also bring out flavors on the sensory organs and prevent the migration of flavors and moisture. Sweeteners also help prevent microbiological spoilage by altering the osmotic pressure.

Some of the different types of sweeteners include:

Corn syrup. Corn syrups are categorized by DE (dextrose equivalents); they generally come in 24, 36 and 42 DE. The standard corn syrup used for fruit fillings is 42 DE. As the DE increases, the corn syrup becomes less viscous and sweeter. The cost is also slightly higher because as the DE rises, more processing is required to manufacture it. Storage in heated silos facilitates pumping for the thicker corn syrups.

Beet and cane sugar (sucrose). Normally used dry (although syrups are available), sugar has a higher cost than corn syrup but is still used by some processors. The sweet taste increases quickly and gradually declines. Sucrose is a disaccharide, with two monosaccharides (glucose and fructose) forming one molecule, and as a result, it has a higher molecular weight.

HFCS 42 DE and 55 DE. As is the case with corn syrup, the higher the DE, the sweeter the HFCS (a higher DE has more reducing sugars). Fructose lowers aw more than an equivalent corn syrup. Consequently, HFCS normally lowers aw more than corn syrup, as well.

Fructose. Sweeter than sugar (sucrose), this crystalline monosaccharide, on a weight basis, lowers aw more effectively. It is more expensive than sucrose and is normally used only in bar fillings where low aw is critical.

These carbohydrate sweeteners add sweetness to pastry filings and also control aw. The last thing a person wants is a soggy crust and a dry pastry filling. The baked crust has relatively little moisture and relatively small amounts of solutes (sugars). The filling has a relatively large amount of water and a large amount of solutes. The idea is to balance the aw in both the crust and the filling so that there is not a great deal of difference between the two. This helps minimize water migration. Designers should select sweeteners that prevent sugar-crystal formation and growth. For example, if sucrose is the only sugar in a bar filling, it could crystallize out. Using a corn-syrup blend instead of sucrose prevents crystallization.

Using artificial, or high-intensity, sweeteners in place of the aforementioned caloric sweeteners presents problems in preservation and aw control. In some cases, sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol and manitol, take the place of sugar or corn syrup. These are not metabolized the same way as other sugars, and, therefore, provide fewer calories than the sweeteners they replace. However, because they pass through the gut, they can cause digestive problems (diarrhea) if consumed at a high level. Despite these difficulties, these sweetener systems allow the advantage of having a “no sugar” claim on a product label.

No one wants a grainy product. Blending sweeteners — in particular, corn syrup and HFCS — will not exceed the solubility limits of the sweeteners and helps prevent sugar crystallization.

Different types of corn syrup and other sweeteners have different sweetness values, viscosity and ability to lower aw. The following lists the relative sweetening power of the significant sweeteners used in fruit preps compared to sugar at 1.
• Acesulfame-K has a value of 200;
• Aspartame is 180;
• Sucrose is 1;
• Fructose is 1.4;
• Dextrose is 0.75;
• Corn syrup 42 DE is 0.5 (based on solids);
• HFCS 55 DE is 1 (based on solids); and
• HFCS 42 DE is 0.92 (based on solids).

These values are only approximate, and will vary depending on the individual tasting the sweeteners, concentration, temperature and the product in which the ingredient is added.

The soluble solids can vary in the finished product for each filling, but the approximate ranges are as follows:
• Pies are 35º to 60º Brix;
• Danish and pastry fillings are 45º to 65º Brix; and
• Cookie fillings are 68º to 73º Brix.

Creating color
Color has much to do with how the mind perceives a certain flavor. Sometimes we taste with our eyes. If we see a food that looks different from what prior experience tells us it should look like, we have a much more difficult time determining the flavor. As an example, the next time you drink a sweetened beverage, do not look at the color and try to determine the flavor. The results will surprise you, as the eyes provide the mind with certain visual cues about flavor. If a filling looks dull, brown and lacks any visible fruit, consumers may have a much harder time accepting the product, even if only premium ingredients and care have been used in making it.

Fruit fillings are normally colored with water-soluble FD&C artificial colors, such as Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6 and Blue 1. Designers may also combine colors to make different shades and blends. All of these colors are water-soluble rather than oil-dispersable; this requires an FD&C Lake (FD&C colors precipitated on aluminum hydroxide). The American public has gotten used to a high level of color in its fillings and other products, and, for the most part, people have accepted artificial colors.

Natural (noncertified) colors, such as turmeric, grape-skin extract, beet color and carmine, are also at the developer’s fingertips. Grape-skin extract offers the possibility of some health benefits as a result of the antioxidants found in the pigment. In some cases, carmine — a natural reddish-purple color derived from the bodies of an insect — is listed on the label of natural health-food products. Sometimes, the cost of these natural colors prohibits their use for fillings.

An example of a color associated with flavor is a Bavarian cream filling. Bavarian cream consists of a simple starch paste containing water, sweeteners (such as corn syrup), modified starch, hydrogenated oil, flavor, phosphoric acid and colors. A combination of FD&C Red 40 and Yellow 6 creates a good, stable custard-yellow hue, which is very important — without them, the mixture would appear as a semitranslucent white paste. Consumers eventually begin to associate Bavarian cream with a certain flavor and color — even though nothing compares to it in nature.

Marching in starch
Modified starches are mainly derived from corn (although tapioca, wheat and other sources are available), and altered by the magic of chemistry (mainly substitution and cross-linking) to exhibit more shear-resistance, more freeze/thaw stability and a certain type of texture compared to native starch. The starch can absorb moisture, provide proper texture, prevent bake-out of the filling while baking, improve appearance and improve freeze/thaw properties. Crosslinked starches resist breakdown from shear, low pH and heat. Substituted starches provide freeze/thaw stability. Cook-up modified starches are used for the majority of fillings. However, an extremely high-solid filling, such as a bar filling, may require a cold-water-swelling pregelatinized starch because starch is harder to cook up or gelatinize under high-solid conditions. To obtain high solids, these types of fillings are often cooked to a higher temperature or for a longer time.

The fruit texture of the prepared fruit-pie filling should be firm, not hard or mushy. The filling should not show syneresis, or watering-off. According to Cozy Helm, vice president of research and development for St. Francis, WI-based Wixon Fontarome: “Texture is extremely important. There is a need to have a pie filling that is not rubbery, but is able to be cut and served easily. There is a need to have a pleasing appearance with sheen to the filling and fruit pieces. Fruit pieces in satisfactory quantities are needed in the filling, but not so much that it is cost-prohibitive.”

A balance is necessary between all the filling ingredients — acidity, sweeteners, starch, gums and moisture. Too much stabilizer or starch can tie up both the moisture and flavor.

Cold-processed fillings, sometimes used in bar fillings, utilize factors other than cooking to produce a shelf-stable product. High-solids fruit fillings (75% solids or more) rely on aw of 0.71 or lower and low pH to protect against microbial growth. Developers need to determine the shelf-stability of chocolate- or vanilla-flavored high-solids fillings (these cold-processed fillings cannot contain a large amount of acid) and adapt formulations as necessary to ensure this quality.

Fillings for breakfast bars, toaster pastries or cookies may need to be fluid during pumping or depositing, but form a viscous, short-textured gel during baking. An example would be a fruit-filled cookie or tart, where the filling is injected into the cookie dough before going into the oven. These are typically made with coextruder equipment, such as a Rheon. The bar filling must be fluid enough to be pumped or formed in the dough jacket and be flowable during the first stage of baking to fill the voids in the pastry or cookie. Later on, in the oven, the starch must gelatinize fully so that the filling does not leak out of the pastry or enclosed cookie.

Finding the right starch to match the application can help solve many of these potential problems. Jeff Jenniges, technical director at Lawrence Foods, Inc., Elk Grove Village, IL, says: “It is important to design a filling that can be pumped through a spot depositor, or be sheeted or extruded uniformly. The filling should be able to be pumped without remixing. The starch selected should enable the filling to undergo freeze/thaw cycling without gel rupture and syneresis and/or weeping.”

Doris Dougherty, food scientist at the A.E. Staley Research Center, Decatur, IL, notes that Staley offers a starch “designed to gelatinize in high sweetener solids and under baking conditions generally used for these products.” She adds that the company offers another product that “provides some initial viscosity to suspend particles and prevent filling from flowing out of the product prior to baking, when filling is cooked in the last stage on an oven conveyor belt.”

Hydrocolloids, or gums, provide functionality similar to starch. When they work in combination with starches, the result is better than either ingredient can achieve alone. While gums may cost more on a weight basis than starch, they can be used at a lower level and create a functional synergy with starch. As a result, less starch can be used — improving the flavor by reducing starchy flavor notes. Some of the gums used include pectin, guar, locust bean, gum arabic, xanthan, alginate, gellan and carrageenan. It should be pointed out that some of these gums are considered natural ingredients. Natural gums vary and, although gum suppliers take care to standardize the gum, it is important to read the specifications.

A filling process
When the manufacturer creates a filling, first water is added to a steam-jacketed mixer. To minimize the break-up of the fruit during production, the scraper bar and the kettle are set on an angle of approximately 15 degrees. During the mixing process, the scraper blades repeatedly lift the viscous mix up gently until gravity pulls it back down again. Water lowers cost; hydrates other ingredients, such as the starch and gums; and dissolves the acids and preservatives. It provides the proper mouthfeel, controls viscosity, and acts as a solvent for all water-soluble ingredients.

Once the water is poured in, starch is added and mixed in well to create a slurry. The fruit or dehydrated fruit, along with sugar, water and minor ingredients, are mixed in next. A portion of the corn syrup or sugar is mixed in at this point, because starch hydrates best if the Brix is under 50º; the other ingredients compete for the available water if the Brix is over 50º. Because the 5+1 fruit contains so much of the available water, it is necessary to add the fruit first to cook the starch up properly.

Developers may add additional stabilizers, such as xanthan gum and locust bean gum, to manage some of the water and produce a more freeze/thaw-stable product. The gums are often first dispersed in sugar to prevent lumping and then added under high-shear mixing to the water. The rapid mixing disperses and hydrates the gums. The gum slurry is added to the main mix. After this, the preservative can be added.

The mix is heated to 190º F with agitation and held there for 5 to 10 minutes. It will thicken as the starch cooks out and gelatinizes. The rest of the corn syrup is added at the end of the process, which helps cool down the mix. Flavor is the very last ingredient added, mixed in at this point to minimize the loss of volatiles.

For a hot-fill operation, the fruit filling is filled into containers at a minimum temperature of 165º F. This temperature can vary, depending on the size of container, the pH and aw. Finished fillings are placed in containers, such as No.10 cans; 3- or 5-gal. pails, which are inverted to sterilize the pail lids; totes; and ready-to-use plastic or foil pouches. A large bakery can pump fillings from a tote or barrel to equipment on a conveyor line, where it can be injected into doughnuts, filled into pie shells or added to fruit-topped pastries.

Check please
Before the filling is released, its flavor, color, texture, pH and titritable-acidity attributes, and baking properties all require a quality-control check by the manufacturer. Flavor and color are normally checked against a retention sample. Developers should note that the flavor might possibly develop or change. Developers might want to taste the fillings initially and then again the next day. Titritable acidity and pH are checked versus the results of specifications and past production. A pH meter checks the pH, while titration of the total acid in the filling uses a sodium-hydroxide solution. At times, a titritable-acidity check is not run. Again, a second check may be necessary if the pH of the mixture takes time to come to equilibrium. Texture or viscosity may be evaluated with an instrument designed for that purpose. A Bostwick consistometer (a calibrated inclined plane) measures the flow rate of product for a fixed period of time, after it is released from a gate down a calibrated incline. A spindle, or Brookfield-type, viscosity meter may also be used. Product designers can conduct a bake test, baking the filling at a certain oven temperature for a specified period of time to measure how much the filling spreads when heated.

As a measure of the fruit content or the fruit identity, the filling’s drained weight (of fruit pieces retained on sieves after washing findings with warm water) is often spec’d out and measured. In addition, the size of the pieces, as well as defects, such as haze, are checked.

A filling demand
“There are new trends in the fruit-filling industry,” says Jenniges. He adds that the Hispanic market is becoming more important for the food industry, and in particular, to filling-product companies. He also notes an increased demand for both lower-cost products and indulgent or premium-quality products.

It pays for the small bakery to outsource fruit-filling needs to companies that specialize in it. This avoids the need for a small cookie manufacturer to carry an inventory of different fruits and special equipment. “In products like Danish, bar fillings and cookie fillings, it does not pay for a small bakery to make its own specialized fillings,” Jenniges says.

Food companies that use pie and pastry fillings need to be flexible and adapt to the changing needs and demands of the customer. By understanding those concerns and creating products that meet those requirements, creating great-tasting products with these ingredients is easy as pie.

Allen Skillicorn is a consultant to the food industry. He has served as project leader in fillings and toppings at Bunge Foods, Bradley, IL, and as a senior food scientist at Sterns & Lehman, Inc., Mansfield, OH. He can be reached at


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