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Cost Savings for Frozen Strawberry Production

Pacific Ridge Farms not only grows strawberries, but also processes them to take advantage of vertical integration from the farm to onsite coolers for processing and freezing.

GEA RefrigerationPacific Ridge Farms has been practicing organic farming in Ventura County, Calif., for 25 years, bringing to market organic strawberries that are enjoyed by consumers worldwide. A lot of effort and dedication is required to be successful in farming organically, and Pacific Ridge’s farming is a collaborative effort by all its employees. As a socially conscious company, Pacific Ridge Farms is committed to providing its customers with the highest quality products.

Strawberry production is Pacific Ridge Farms’ specialty. Pacific Ridge Farms not only grows the strawberries, but also has a processing plant, taking advantage of vertical integration from the farm to onsite coolers for processing and freezing. All strawberries processed are from local farmers in Southern California, as Pacific Ridge Farms provides its own onsite coolers to offer its customers the freshest product available in the market.

“We provide frozen strawberries to all sectors of the industrial food industry — beverage, yogurt, jam, baby food, food service and retail and offer our expertise to the export sector,” said Chris Ielmini, vice president of processing operations at Pacific Ridge Farms.

Product Quality a Top Concern for Pacific Ridge Farms

While food safety is one of Pacific Ridge Farms’ top priorities, quality of product also is critical to the business.

Previously, Pacific Ridge Farms had relied on an old ammonia tunnel and nitrogen drip for processing its frozen strawberries. Nitrogen was used to “precrust” the strawberries before they went into the freezer tunnel. However, this was problematic on several fronts, with hygiene and food quality concerns, as well as the high costs associated with use of the nitrogen.

“It was an economical decision to replace the nitrogen system for several reasons,” said Ielmini. “The cost of the nitrogen was one issue, but product quality was a larger concern due to the high number of broken strawberries — the result of the nitrogen penetrating the product. We market whole strawberries, so the high number of broken pieces had a negative impact.”

Ielmini had heard about the GEA AE-series tunnel freezer from GEA Refrigeration Canada (formerly Aerofreeze), and knew it would not only save the company money in processing costs, but would offer an improvement to Pacific Ridge Farms’ frozen strawberry production. Capable of processing 0.2 to 7 tons per hour, the freezer is the most hygienic freezing and chilling product on the market today, due to its fully welded insulated enclosure and clean-in-place (CIP) system design. Accordingly, Pacific Ridge Farms made the decision to purchase the freezer as a key part of its frozen strawberry production.

“We wanted to do things right. As a company and team always striving to be the best, we initiated the quest to purchase the best tunnel available in the market,” said Ielmini. “The GEA AE-series freezer fit that bill and is more cost-effective than our previous system.”

Ielmini says the freezer has also reduced product breakage.

“With the GEAAE-series freezer there is far less breakage, which has improved our product quality — a huge plus.”

Design Equals Hygienic Benefits Equals Key to Food Safety

Ielmini says the design of the freezer attributes to proper food safety which is critical to their operations.

“The design of the system — the large box, side coils and CIP system which keeps the unit clean and properly sanitized — a positive impact on the safety of our product.”

Ielmini also lauds the GEA’s Sequential Defrost continuous defrost system as key in not losing any capacity.

“Strawberries are highly perishable, so we don’t want to stop the freezing process to defrost the unit. Being able to defrost while the freezer is running is key for us in eliminating any downtime.”

Overall, Ielmini is very pleased with the freezer and the positive impact it has provided for the company.

“We’re realizing cost savings, better product quality, and feel confident that our product is safe, so we have been very pleased with the GEA AE-series.”