Effective Produce Handling In Industrial Freezing
Monday, December 13th, 2021
Freezing fresh produce is a sensitive process. Fruits and vegetables are more prone to bruising or other damage, and in an industrial freezing situation, not only is heat being extracted, but the produce is also being conveyed down a continuous production line, so there’s a high degree of mechanical handling involved.
By David Hallifax, Head of the EMEA region within the Frozen Food Business Unit at technology provider, GEA.
Bearing this in mind, food processors need to consider using different conveyors depending on the type of food being frozen.
Today’s frozen food aisles in supermarkets typically have pretty much every food type in them you can imagine. It’s an incredibly huge market and it’s not surprising to see why frozen food is popular with consumers—convenience, less waste and food preservation, not to mention the fact that freshly frozen foods retain their nutritional value.
But with the increasingly broad range of frozen food types now available comes extra challenges for food processors. Freezing joints of meat for example, all require a very different freezing regime to freezing fruit and vegetables. Understanding how food freezes and how it should be handled correctly to retain optimal quality allows for efficient solutions to be developed that deliver a high quality frozen product, with maximum product yield.
Freezing fresh produce is a sensitive process. Fruits and vegetables are more prone to bruising or other damage, and in an industrial freezing situation, not only is heat being extracted, but the produce is also being conveyed down a continuous production line, so there’s a high degree of mechanical handling involved. Bearing this in mind, food processors need to consider using different conveyors depending on the type of food being frozen. Factories need to be highly streamlined to become economically successful, and the frozen food sector is a very competitive marketplace, so to achieve optimum efficiency, specialisation in dedicated production lines is a must.
Soft fruits, such as berries, can be especially challenging to successfully freeze to a high quality standard. Why? Because they have a tendency to become soggy and clump together when they are being processed on mass. Leading food technology provider GEA has conducted intensive research and development into significantly improving the individual quick freezing (IQF) of fruits and vegetables, and has created a trademark Long Wave Fluidization system using a tunnel freezer. This method is especially effective when freezing loosely rolling products, such as peas, berries or French fries.
Integrated into GEA’s AY series freezers, the Long Wave Fluidization system eliminates the need for liquid nitrogen pre-crusting before freezing for highly sensitive products such as raspberries. By combining even air distribution, high air pressure and gentle mechanical product agitation rather than belt shaking, loosely rolling foodstuffs are individually and rapidly frozen.
As we know, any type of food can be frozen but the quality of the end product is what really counts. The key criteria is the ability to continously monitor the product’s frozen state and automatically adjust freezer conditions when needed. This ensures that the products leave the freezer in optimum condition, so customers can be confident of the highest quality output, whether freezing meat cuts or the most delicate of foods.
Because of a constantly growing demand, freezer design is a bit like the performances at the Olympics: year on year, the machinery is larger, faster and stronger and has to be more efficient. Spiral freezers have evolved from handling 2,000 kilos per hour to up to 10 tonnes per hour for prepared foods, 30 tonnes per hour with french fries, and even 40 tonnes per hour with carton freezers, for freezing whole chickens or joints of beef, pork or other bulk products. It’s quite staggering, the range of food types that are frozen.
Freezing systems cater for any type of food, as diverse as chicken nuggets or French fries to croissants, pain au chocolat and other niche pastries. Freezing joints of pork, beef or poultry all require a very different freezing regime to freezing raspberries. Understanding how food freezes and how it should be handled correctly allows for better solutions. And its very different to domestic freezing of course.
What happens with domestic freezing is that some of the quality can be lost to cellular damage leading to drip loss. There’s a whole bunch of science behind industrial frozen food production—there needs to be when you could be dealing with up to 30 tonnes an hour of frozen food. However, we also need to understand how the food was made and how it‘s presented for freezing since one size certainly doesn’t fit all!
Many nutrition scientists recommend frozen foods (Academy of Nutrition and Dietics) as freezing preserves nutrients and properly frozen vegetables can be superior to their fresh counterparts. If the latter have been stored for days in refrigerators or have been in transit for long periods.
The key drivers for freezing equipment are stringent hygiene requirements, high product quality and yield, minimum energy consumption and effective frost management for long operating times. New and innovative products, like vegan alternatives, demand new process lines, which create engineering challenges. Particularly in ageing factories with limited space.
Technological developments include minimizing the use of refrigerants through automated valve control systems to extract optimum levels of heat exchange within the freezer. This process leads to intelligent control systems that automatically monitor frozen food discharge temperatures and control the refrigeration and freezer operating parameters autonomously.
So, in essence for food freezing there are three main parameters—temperature difference, air velocity and time. Adjusting these three parameters to suit whatever product it is that has to have the heat efficiently extracted from it, will result in a range of machinery that suits very different applications.
Current demand for freezing food equipment is just the tip of the iceberg. As more nations develop economically, there will be an increasing demand for frozen food because of the benefits and the fact that you can freeze everything from vegan and vegetarian food to dairy, meat, bakery, fruits and vegetables or prepared foods. Factories are becoming increasingly streamlined to remain economically viable in a very competitive marketplace. That means looking for optimum efficiency and quality – and that in turn usually means specialisation with dedicated production lines.
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