Effective, efficient chilling and freezing are critical processes essential to maintaining food-safety and quality. More forward-thinking meat and poultry processors are now taking a longer-term view when committing funding for investments in adding or replacing chilling and freezing technology.

When shopping for such technology, Butterball LLC executives demand specific features. This Kings Mountain, NC-based processor, a Seaboard Corp. business, is the largest vertically integrated turkey producer in the United States, accounting for 20 percent of total turkey production in this country. It produces about 1.2 billion lbs. of chilled and frozen product per year. While its 675,000 sq.-ft. plant in Mt. Olive, NC, is the world’s largest turkey plant, Butterball also operates plants in Carthage, Mo., as well as in Huntsville, Jonesboro and Ozark, Ark.

“For us, the first essential feature for chilling-freezing equipment and technology is the food safety and sanitary design,” says Irving Young, Butterball’s director of food safety and quality assurance. The company also wants equipment and technology that’s designed to be safe for Butterball associates to use.

“We like to see things like air monitoring with alarms and guards with interlocks to prevent accidental injury of employees who are operating, cleaning or working around the equipment,” Young says. ”It’s a plus when there’s an opportunity to receive on-site training and clear directions and procedures for operations, maintenance and sanitation cleaning.”

Performance and efficiency are also key features for such equipment. “We consider the manufacturer’s performance guarantee – the description, operation specifications and capacities,” Young says. “We also look at the operational parameters of equipment, including the minimum, maximum, variation and heat removal [BTU/lb.]; energy use to determine the feasibility and costs to operate the technology; and the future abilities for upgrades and increased capacities.”

Technology update

Productivity, or throughput, is an issue, especially with existing production lines running at maximum speed or having to change product mix frequently, says Frank Martin, marketing manager of food refrigeration with Danbury, Conn.-based Praxair Inc. .

“Cryogenic systems help reduce bottlenecks and also meet needs when floor space is at a premium or there is no additional expansion area available,” he adds. “Rapid freezing using liquid nitrogen or carbon dioxide helps maintain the product quality and save yield while improving the overall processing speed. Sanitary guidelines, easy clean-up and low maintenance costs are always top-of-mind with our customers. Praxair freezing and chilling systems meet the new USDA sanitation standards.”

Quick delivery and installation with low capital expense are the main drivers of this technology, Martin says. Many plants – depending on the product and line set-up – are challenged to meet production quotas while still maintaining the high-quality standards for the product, he adds. “There is often less maintenance and downtime using cryogenic systems compared to traditional mechanical systems depending on the use,” Martin says.

Praxair’s newest cryogenic freezing offering for the protein industry is its ColdFront ultra-performance, solid-belt tunnel system. The patented design is manufactured by Praxair using a solid, stainless-steel belt. This new belt design expands the types of products that can benefit from rapid and thorough freezing – especially formed, semi-solid, heavily marinated and other wet, difficult-to-handle products. The added benefit for all products is the elimination of belt marks from the product, Martin says.

Processor demand

Three features meat and poultry processors need from their freezing and chilling operations are higher yields, higher productivity and reduced operating costs, says Mark DiMaggio, head of Food & Beverage, Linde North America Inc., Murray Hill, NJ.

Cryogenic equipment can address all three, he adds. “Productivity gains of 10 percent or more are common. Improved handling for diced and sliced products can contribute to higher yields. And new high-efficiency equipment designs improve cryogen efficiency to help lower the cost-to-freeze.”

With today’s lifestyles, many consumers are driven by convenience, DiMaggio says, which has led to growth in more prepared meats, such as marinated chicken breasts, quick-serve products and ready meals. Cryogenic freezing helps lock in moisture, quality and value, he says.

Every processing plant is different so the Linde Food team performs in-plant assessments and works with customers to review the operation and optimize the process with proprietary and patented solutions. “In some cases, we can consolidate lines,” DiMaggio says. “Tip Top Poultry was able to fold three IQF diced-poultry lines into one with our new Cryoline CW freezer.”

Linde’s Cryoline Cryowave IQF freezer is its latest technology offering for industry. Its rolling-wave action helps prevent IQF products from clumping together or sticking to belts, DiMaggio says. This hygienic freezer eliminates the CO2 snow carryover and fines (small pieces of protein) loss associated with flighted freezers and significantly reduces freezing costs. Applications include sliced and diced poultry and beef as well as pizza toppings.

Food-safety role

GEA Refrigeration Technologies’ meat and poultry customers want equipment that is easy to clean to ensure freezing and chilling systems are free of bacteria to meet food-safety requirements, is low-cost and features ease of maintenance and uptime, says Richmond, B.C. (Canada)-based Paul Osterstrom, vice president of the company’s sales support and competence center.

The demand for ready-to-eat food products has increased over the years offering opportunities for his company. “The focus on hygiene and ensuring freezing equipment meets ever-stringent food-safety requirements is the greatest challenge facing our customers,” he adds.

GEA Refrigeration Technologies manufactures easy-to-clean freezers built with stainless-steel, welded construction and caulked joints, which can harbor bacteria . The design ensures easy accessibility for cleaning and inspection. The company also manufactures systems with more efficient energy usage.

Innovative solutions in manufacturing techniques provide benefits to the processor through increased food safety and more efficient freezers. “GEA Refrigeration Technologies solutions includes improved welding techniques, smoother and easier-to-clean welds, computerized automatic clean-in-place systems for efficient cleaning and mounting of motors external to the enclosure for ease of maintenance/increased hygiene,” Osterstrom says.

Sandusky, Ohio-based Andrew Knowles, sales support manager for freezer, stein and allied equipment for JBT FoodTech, agrees most meat and poultry plants are emphasizing hygiene with their new equipment-freezing solutions. “Processors are demanding more hygienic upgrades in their spiral freezing systems, such as fully seam-welded. stainless-steel enclosure panels; hygienic evaporator coils; self-stacking belt technology; CIP wash-down systems; Steam in Freezer (sanitation step); and eliminating capped-rail wear strips,” he adds.

Some meat and poultry customers are working toward longer production runs to avoid nightly defrosts/cleanings and some customers are trying to maximize their capacity while trying to minimize their capital equipment investment and operating costs, he says.

New products include the GyroCompact M8 Twin Belt – Duplex (Spiral Cooler and/or Freezer).With two belts forming into one stack, the GC M8 Twin Belt freezer is primarily used for freezing raw beef/hamburger patties from two independent formers. Its Advantec CC – Compact Chiller (Linear Impingement Cooler and/or Freezer) is used for crust freezing meat cuts and/or meat logs. The Advantec CC Impingement Freezer uses a stainless-steel tube/aluminum fin cooling coil, a fully seam welded insulated enclosure, elevated on stainless-steel legs, and can be provided with stainless-steel drive and fan motors.

The company’s Gyrocompact 10TC Tight Curve (spiral cooler -freezer) with a 42-inch-wide belt tight curve belt, provides a high-capacity, wide-belt freezer solution in an enclosure box that is only 15 feet by 9 inches wide. It is primarily used for freezing raw chicken, parfried nuggets, parfried tenders, fully cooked diced chicken and fully cooked chicken breasts where plant space is limited. The GC M10TC can provide 45 tiers of belt under 18 feet of available height.

Looking ahead

Praxair is looking at customer requests for temperature control earlier in the process to retain product quality and reduce contamination or to address food-safety issues, Martin says.

The concern for food safety is driving the need to design freezers and chillers that minimize areas that can harbor bacteria, GEA’s Osterstrom says. “As meat and poultry processors seek greater efficiencies and improved up-time, we are realizing an increased demand for larger, more efficient food-manufacturing lines that include more efficient freezing processes, with less equipment to clean, yet that also includes greater up-time while ensuring food safety,” he adds.

“By listening to the needs of the meat and poultry industry, Linde has made significant strides in cryogenic technology during the past couple years,” DiMaggio says. “State-of-the-art cryogenic solutions are designed for high-volume productivity and to get more BTUs out of every lb. of cryogen.”

More automated and precise handling helps avoid bottlenecks and reduce product losses. Regarding reducing losses, even a few percent can add up to $500,000 or more a year on high-volume processes.

“Advanced cryogenic technology will continue to be a relatively quick way to transform meat and poultry processing operations, and attention to food quality and safety is increasingly making hygienic design a differentiating factor in equipment decisions. Leasing arrangements reduce immediate capital outlays so processors can reap the financial benefits that much sooner,” DiMaggio says.