This article originally ran in the January/February 2012 issue of Food Manufacturing.
Poultry processors are under extreme pressure to boost yield and productivity while containing costs. Fortunately, those goals can be achieved all at the same time and more efficiently than ever with recent advances in cryogenic freezing technology, using either liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) or nitrogen (N2).
Ten years ago, the market mostly offered basic freezer designs for spiral, tunnel and immersion and other cryogenic equipment. Since then, the industry has made significant advances in technology design and process engineering that can make a quantum impact on poultry processing.
Cryogenic equipment manufacturers have been developing new technology and value engineering existing designs to squeeze more BTUs from a pound of cryogen, so new equipment is more efficient than ever. For example, our latest high-volume spiral freezers leverage a proprietary, patent-pending air design to double the heat transfer rate compared to standard spirals. Yet the footprint is smaller so boosting processing line throughput is easy. New nitrogen tunnel freezers are quick freezing diced poultry, fajita strips, pizza toppings and other individually quick frozen (IQF) products, eliminating the CO2 snow carryover associated with flighted freezers, and a patented rolling-wave design keeps IQF products separate as they freeze. High-efficiency, liquid nitrogen bottom-injection systems provide accurate temperature control for grinding, mixing and extrusion.
New cryogenic equipment can eliminate the bottlenecks and downtime associated with older methods, but equipment alone is not enough. Process expertise is needed to analyze the application, identify specific cryogenic technology as well as how and where to apply it in order to extract maximum value. There are always cost sensitivities, and leasing can make technology costs more predictable. However, the focus should always be on long-term value. Because the right process know-how and engineering design doesn’t just lower “cost to freeze” — it can lead to lasting cost reductions and improvements in yield, production capacity and hygiene.
As part of an in-plant assessment, technology experts may be able to identify process steps where one might not conventionally seek a temperature reduction. For example, in boneless, skinless chicken breasts, Linde pioneered the removal of heat prior to frying. That may sound counterintuitive, but the advantage is in maximizing product quality and yield.
Similarly, in a glazed wing application, we found a creative way to “cryo-boost” a mechanical freezer. When there was limited space before the mechanical freezer, we discovered that cryogenic freezing was, in fact, better afterwards. The technique was totally unorthodox, but it minimized downtime of the mechanical freezer and improved glaze pickup by more than 6 percent.
This kind of expertise helps processors maintain the quality standards that their customers demand, and reducing yield losses goes right to the bottom line. With cryogenic know-how, it is possible to take an existing operation with a 10 percent yield loss down to the 2-3 percent range, resulting in millions of dollars in value for each processing line per year. Many cryogenic equipment manufacturers have proprietary designs. However, it’s those developments coupled with application expertise that are proving most valuable in tough economic times.
Mark DiMaggio is a member of the National Chicken Council, and has served on the technical and regulatory committee of the National Turkey Federation.