While blast chillers and freezers haven’t been very mainstream in the past, the technology has seen a resurgence of interest due to increased food safety regulations, and has evolved to work with almost any product, increasing food safety and shelf life. When it comes to equipment ROI, the machines are built for the long-haul, and can outlast alternative equipment for rapid chilling or freezing by years. Investing in one can also expedite production for manufacturers of all sizes, and now you can even rent one to try it out before buying.
Designed to cool product to a specific temperature (anywhere between 40° and -40°F), the technology’s ability to do so at an extremely accelerated rate is what preserves the product’s freshness and taste, says Chef Michael Williams, director of culinary marketing in retail for Unified Brands. The quicker you can get your hot product down to the specific degree in temperature that you need to store it, he says, the more consistent its quality will be, and more importantly, the quicker you can get it out of the temperature danger zone where pathogens and bacteria can grow.
While blast freezers and chillers may seem like an expensive investment, it can be well worth your while to consider them over other alternatives, depending on what kinds of food you’re handling. “Flash freezing with liquid nitrogen is an alternative,” says Luc Imberechts, owner of Bakon USA, which carries numerous blast freezers in its Koma line. “However, flash freezing can be harmful to bakery and pastry products, as the temperatures are much lower and, although the upfront capital investment is relatively low, the costs to operate the equipment are much higher. Blast freezers are better quality, with a better ROI in the longterm.”
Bakon’s Koma blast freezers now include a new model, introduced in October at the International Baking Industry Expo, called the Mistral blast freezer. It’s got two racks and boasts improvements over previous models upon insulation for better energy efficiency. The Variotherm is also now available for US standard trays, and offers complete temperature and humidity control, allowing it to be used as either a freezer or refrigerator, as suits your needs.
Unified’s blast chillers and freezers are specifically known for their ease of use, Williams says. “There are many, many grocery stores that use our blast chillers, and it’s because the employee doesn’t have to think about anything. All they have to do is stick a probe in it and slide the product in there, and it will run as fast as it can until the core temperature of the product is below 40°. It’s really very easy, and it also documents the temperature path, showing how long it took to bring the core temperature down and recording it.”
For commissaries, this means easier documentation for HACCP and FSMA compliance. Unified’s machines are also all made of stainless steel, and come in sizes small and large enough to fit most workplace floorplans.
There are numerous brands and designs to choose from however, all dependent on your specific commissary’s needs. “Some are designed to work inline, while others are designed for products on racks, sometimes with automated motion,” Imberechts says. “Some are also designed for trays. The difference between the models will be the overall design, but also the power of the compressor and the position of the evaporator.”
Depending on the way a food is packaged, Williams says that blast freezers reduce the chances of freezer burn and preserve a food’s moisture better, with the time and energy saved by the process translating into measurable savings for your company.
And if you’re on the fence about which freezing technology you’d like to go with, you can now try it out for yourself before making a decision. “We now offer a testing unit that the customers can rent to run their own tests in their facility with their products,” Imberechts says of Bakon’s new blast freezer testing unit. “They will then be able to experiment and see the impact on the quality of their foods. By testing, one can validate the correct temperature, air speed and time required for specific items. With these parameters, it is much easier to develop the correct industrial solution for a specific situation.”