2015 IPPE chicken ice sculpture
Meat and poultry processors are doing more with less thanks to advances in chilling and freezer systems.

Faced with tough competition and slim margins, meat and poultry processors want to do more with less as they meet marketplace demands ranging from new product development to higher volumes to food safety. That’s true on the processing floor and also applies to freezing and chilling systems.

“There are three main drivers right now in the industry: productivity, product quality and cost efficiencies,” says Mark DiMaggio, head of the food and beverage industry for Linde North America, Murray Hill, NJ. “And overlapping those is yield.”

Adds Rich Jarrett, global director, marketing and business development at Praxair Inc. in Danbury, Conn.: “Cost, quality and food safety are issues that are always top-of-mind for food manufacturers. They are also concerned with their ability to manage their production schedule to meet customer demand.”

Mike Kish, eastern sales manager for JBT FoodTech in Sandusky, Ohio, hears similar priorities on processors’ wish lists, which he says boil down to one main concern. “They are looking to maximize their ROI,” he sums up.

Kish underscores the pivotal function freezing and chilling systems have in meat and poultry plants. “Freezers are about value preservation. If you have a problem with your freezer, you sure can take away value – and quickly,” he points out.

Processors want to maximize efficiency while boosting their own production to stay competitive. “Productivity is being increased for two reasons: one is the amount of products that are being further processed and the other is the fact that processors are looking to increase their share of market but don’t want to invest capital for a new line or a plant expansion or another plant,” explains DiMaggio. “You can do that by putting on an additional shift or look at current line capacity and understand how to increase it. We are doing both – increasing line capacity through new advanced technologies and putting additional lines with advanced technologies into plants.”

DiMaggio points to trends like still-increasing volumes from the industry’s top producers. “We are seeing processing lines at 15,000 lbs. per hour. There is an explosion in the amount of production per unit of time on a given floor. No longer can you have a standard line of a freezing or chilling solution – you need to configure your line around productivity,” he remarks.

Custom solutions for chilling and freeing systems based on line configurations are becoming more common, he adds.

Kish has seen similar continuous spikes in production that have dramatically changed the landscape in the past decade or so. “Their conversion and what they are able to do with product is nothing short of amazing. The mass of what we are able to do now is incredible,” he says of the industry’s big players.

Hyping hygiene

Hygiene is linked to uptime and productivity for all types of meat and poultry operations. “You have to freeze and chill well and in a manner in which machines stay up and running,” Kish points out, noting that the bar for hygiene standards is continually being raised.

Praxair cry-saver tunnel freezer
The design of the ColdFront cryo-saver tunnel freezer focuses the freezing power of cryogen directly on the food product.
(Photo courtesy of Praxair Inc.)

To make sure that bar is reached, JBT FoodTech offers solutions like its High Hygiene single-piece extruded evaporator coil design that removes crevices and overlapping surfaces. “When you’re talking about areas with potential unknown risks for biohazards, coils are one of the biggest. You can’t see them or access them,” he notes. Reducing water usage for sanitation is another concern related to hygienic design.

“Hygiene is now a must-have,” DiMaggio says. He adds that Linde’s European influence is evident in hygienic design features like sloped panels and a minimum number of screws used in equipment designs.

Processors always keep ROI at the forefront of decisions about new or upgraded cold solutions. “You can no longer have production increases and quality without competitive costs, so we have to look at how to drive out costs so processors can win more business to increase margins,” DiMaggio remarks.

He uses one cut of poultry to show how better yield helps rein in costs. “If you have a boneless, skinless chicken breast that is double marinated, injected and tumbled and goes through a press, we can increase yield immediately prior to pressing by putting a crust freeze on it. That improves the quality because a more right product has less rebound,” he says.

New food-product development is also impacting the design of effective, cost-effective freezing and chilling systems. “The trend in coating is toward more natural coatings. When you do that, you put more moisture in a freezer and that challenges us,” explains Kish. In response, he says, JBT FoodTech has introduced features like sequential defrosting.

As they work with all-sizes of processors, those who supply chilling and freezing equipment have strived to develop more advanced systems in the same footprint, at a competitive cost and with high efficiencies. For example, Linde has developed a new patented hygienic tunnel for individual quick-frozen (IQF) products, such as diced poultry, pizza tops, meatballs, and wings among other items. 

Mark DiMaggio, Linde North America

Mark DiMaggio

“We are able to take this and offer enhanced IQF technology that solely uses carbon dioxide and that requires significant amount of controls and maintenance. Now, we use cryogen and have a patented belt design that allows a significant increase in product per unit of floor space,” says DiMaggio, adding that Linde recently worked with a poultry company in Georgia on such technology. “We enabled Tip Top Poultry, a longtime customer of ours, to consolidate two or three lines into one.”

Linde has also upped its capability to offer liquid nitrogen with new proprietary controls and designs, including nozzles, to chill products before forming. “We have a control system in our design that, irrespective of size or fat-to-lean makeup, will consistently chill evenly through the mixer,” DiMaggio says.

Praxair launched the ColdFront cryo-saver tunnel freezer last year to help processors reduce cryogen consumption while maximizing productivity. Processors can cut up to 15 percent of their operating costs in that way.

“The design of the ColdFront cryo-saver tunnel freezer greatly reduces outside air infiltration, focusing the freezing power of the cryogen directly on the food product. This efficiency also makes it possible to increase production when compared with a less-efficient freezer,” Jarrett says.

Kansas City Sausage in Kansas City, Mo., has installed that cryo-saver tunnel freezer. “Praxair’s new tunnel made it possible for us to increase production to meet our growing demand, while also lowering our freezing cost,” reports Darren Hoffman, director of operations.

Improvements in existing freezing and chilling systems can boost productivity and efficiency. Praxair’s newly designed spiral freezer improves cryogen injection and cold vapor circulation.