Freezing is among the top solutions in bringing quality products to retail foodservice operations and, in turn, consumers.

Foodservice and in-store bakeries want quick solutions such as thaw-and-sell or par-baked products when time, labor and equipment are in limited supply. In some cases, freezing could even be used as a distribution strategy, as when a soft product like sliced bread needs to retain its shape and freshness during the shipping process.

“Quality here is directly linked to freshness,” says Luc Imbrechts, president of Bakon Food Equipment, Inc.

With many products in the retail foodservice and instore bakery industry having high water content, Imbrechts says blast freezing is seeing a rise in importance.

“Correctly freezing these items is only possible by starting the process with blast freezing,” he says. “Deeper temperature and high air flow on the products will ensure that the cold travels rapidly to the core of the products and, by doing so, one makes sure to avoid the creation of large crystals, from the free water, that will damage the products later in the process.”

Bread doughs, cakes and other similar products react close to the same when it comes to freezing because of that high water content. The presence of other components, like sugars and fats, cause their freezing points — the critical temperature region — to differ.

When freezing baked goods, the core temperature needs to pass the critical region as quickly as possible. Blast freezing uses a combination of deep temperatures and high air speed to achieve that.

Bakon’s H-80/20 cabinets are a combination of a blast freezer with a storage freezer containing anywhere from two to 10 doors. Its blast freezing technique is suitable for packed and unpacked goods, baked and par-baked products, fresh dough portions, meat, fish and other sensitive foods.

The polyuerethane-and-foam insulation is manufactured according to the sandwich-technique and the conical bracketing technique. Eighty percent of the unit’s capacity is reserved for the blast freezing section, with the other 20 percent being delivered to the remaining storage sections.

“There are solutions for operations organized around trays, racks or continuous inline approach,” Imbrechts says. “We even offer a plug-and-play testing unit that enables an industrial customer to test the process with their specific products and measure accurately the ideal blast freezing temperature and time. This is extremely helpful when ordering a tunnel freezer for instance as it will ensure that the unit is correctly sized.”

Combination units like this can be ideal with combining several rooms with various temperatures, relative humidity and air flow speed.

Controlling humidity

Relative humidity is an important factor to consider before, during and after blast freezing. It affects different products in different ways.

“Humidity is the enemy of chocolate,” Imbrechts says. “Not only will it destroy the appearance of the chocolate, but it will also affect the snap and the taste. Similarly, French macarons need a dry environment, or they lose the very specific way they taste, with a ‘skin’ surrounding the product.”

On the other hand, cakes with fruit, cream and similar fillings and toppings will have a longer shelf-life and will keep their freshness in a refrigerated environment that maintains a high relative humidity. So not only is humidity important during blast freezing, but also during thawing and shelf life. In order to keep products in a refrigerated environment, the relative humidity must be locked down.

 “Accurate humidity control is important with proofing raw doughs so that they develop properly, but also when thawing out cakes,” Imbrechts says. “The goal is to ensure the initial freshness can be found in the final product. Our refrigerated displays, produced by OCF, are also designed keeping this in mind.”

Sanitation strategies

Freezers — whether blast freezers or otherwise — frost over because low-temperature air can’t hold as much humidity as the warmer environment in the bakery. When the two collide, frost forms on interior surfaces. In such an extreme environment, sanitation is critical.

“A freezer of any type will accumulate moisture from the product and the factory air due to the difference in temperature between the factory air and the freezer air,” Jon Hocker, director of technology and product line manager for JBT Corporation, told Baking & Snack. “The presence of moisture on the conveyor belt as frost, on any internal structures and on the evaporator coil makes the environment favorable for bacteria.”

To mitigate such risk, JBT’s Frigoscandia self-stacking freezer eliminates a significant amount of support structure as well as a drive drum surface, which makes sanitation easier, according to Hocker. “The design has less to inspect and less to clean,” he noted.

Freezers  are also associated with sanitation concerns, meaning they must contend with harsh chemicals on a regular basis. “All our freezers are designed with hygiene and cleanability in mind,” says Linde’s Erik Fihlman. “Hygiene is considered from a food safety standpoint and cleanabilty from a time and labor standpoint. In either respect, getting back into production with minimal downtime is very important,” he adds, noting that Linde designs its CRYOLINE brand series of freezers in this way to efficiently go from sanitation back to production. “We consider access, harborage point elimination, sloping surfaces, cleaning mechanisms — all things that will reduce downtime.”

Sanitation should be considered from the human standpoint as well as design. “Everything is designed with the goal of eliminating any sort of contamination,” Fihlman says, “whether it’s standing water, food products or something external that might come in contact with the freezer from people.” Whether in the food process areas or the product zones, any part that a product touches or passes through should be considered for sanitary design.

Accessibility is another important factor. Workers must be able to see all parts of the freezer in order to clean it easily and effectively.

Whether cleaning, maintaining or just plain running product through the process, when operators take care of their freezer systems, the freezers take care of their products to stop time while continuing to move forward.