Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the November/December 2015 issue of Food Manufacturing
More meat, poultry and seafood processors are looking for alternatives to chilling with dry ice pellets. Some plants have never used anything else, and are now growing. Yet many processors are now reviewing chilling operations more broadly for productivity improvements because several things are coming into focus at once:
- Maintaining plant productivity depends on reliable supply chain management.
- Chilling with dry ice pellets is labor intensive and can produce uneven results.
- Food safety and quality are more vital than ever.
New requirements under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that went into effect earlier this year mean processors must now manage the food safety of dry ice and food-contact gases as food ingredients. So that is one key reason processors are looking at their supply chains, and now questioning the use of dry ice.
On demand CO2 snow generation systems are a primary alternative to purchasing pellets because they provide processors greater control -- over productivity, improved quality, food safety, and labor costs. They can be implemented quickly, especially in plants that already store liquid CO2 on-site for use in cryogenic freezers or advanced bottom-injection chilling systems for mixers/blenders.
There is no waiting with on-demand CO2 snow generators. CO2 snow generation systems change liquid CO2 into a stream of snow that can be channeled into boxes, combo bins, or mixers/blenders. Because it is generated only as needed there is far less waste than with pellets and thus reduced operating costs. CO2 snow solutions can be installed for a single processing area, or multiple areas to improve productivity of chilling operations across the plant -- from rapidly and accurately reducing temperatures of fresh meat, poultry or seafood in combo bins, to chilling fresh food in packaging boxes as they move along a conveyor line.
Automated CO2 snow generation systems take the guess work out of manual chilling methods for more consistent temperatures across the food product.
Food-grade liquid CO2 is stored in a pressurized tank on-site and delivered through a cryogenic piping system to use points inside the plant. With outdoor storage tanks, on-demand CO2 snow generation systems can reduce or eliminate the costs involved with storing pellets inside, and free up valuable floorspace to further expand processing.
CO2 snow generating equipment should be professionally engineered and custom designed for maximizing productivity. CO2 nozzles must be sized to deliver a gentle flow of CO2 snow that minimizes cryogen use while maximizing BTU transfer across the food product.
Rapidly achieving and maintaining cold temperatures of food products is vital to control foodborne pathogens during processing. Carbon dioxide is a solid at minus 109 degrees F, and unlike traditional water ice, CO2 sublimes so it will never melt to damage food, or shipping cartons. Beyond their own plants, processors must also pay close attention to their CO2 supply.
Under the new FSMA requirements, the production, packaging, transportation, handling and storage of food-contact CO2, in all its forms, must now be fully documented at every step using Hazard Analysis and Risk-based Prevention control (HARPC). Major producers of food and beverage grade gases certify production facilities to Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standards. Some also provide Quality Assurance testing, in addition to HARPC, and required documentation of food safety audits.
Handling dry ice pellets is labor intensive, and the more handling that is required, the higher the costs. Moving pellet combos around the plant, as well as loading and unloading, all take time, and these operations are often associated with high rates of worker injuries, particularly motion injuries, as well as related costs for health and liability insurance, and worker compensation claims.
Of course, managing supply and deliveries also takes time and can pose major operational challenges. With on-demand CO2 snow systems, long-term agreements with certified suppliers can eliminate the backaches and headaches of dry ice pellets, and help ensure compliance with the new FSMA requirements.
Mark DiMaggio is a member of the National Chicken Council, and has served on the technical and regulatory committee of the National Turkey Federation.