Gone are the days when consumers were satisfied with frozen food products that defrosted into a watery, tasteless meal. Today consumers want to purchase frozen meals that, once defrosted and heated up, look and taste as if they have just been cooked.
To meet this growing demand for high quality frozen foods, South African frozen food manufacturers need sophisticated freezing solutions to support their production processes.
In tandem with this demand, Afrox has come to the fore as a leading solutions provider of cryogenic freezing equipment. Over the past 24 months, Afrox has commissioned five major cryogenic freezing installations in the local food industry and is fielding an increasing number of enquiries from other frozen food companies interested in making the transition to this high-end technology.
"Being a part of The Linde Group and having access to its world-leading freezer pool allows us to offer South African food companies the broadest range and diversity of cryogenic freezers in the local market," says Afrox´s Hendrik Pretorius. This diversity is important because each production facility is unique. Working with an applications engineer, we´re able to tailor cryogenic freezing systems that meet the actual and future needs of each customer.
"Our value proposition includes equipment rental and gas supply and the pool of equipment on offer complies with global food standards and delivers efficiencies that have not been achievable up until now."
Cryogenic freezing is used for a wide variety of products, from packed and prepared foods, high value fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, to bakery, dairy products and increasingly, prepared ready meals.
"Many different food products can benefit from the advantages of cryogenic freezing and cooling," says Pretorius. "For example, fish and seafood retain their flavour and texture whilst meat and meat products benefit from low dehydration and less drip loss, compared to traditional freezing methods. Baking products benefit from faster processing, sealing in the quality and freshness today´s consumers want."
Attracting particular attention in the local food manufacturing sector is the new generation CRYOLINE® CS compact, high-capacity spiral freezer. This world first cryogenic self-stacking spiral freezer range has been built with a footprint that is only 3,5 m by 2,5 m, yet with efficient use of the cryogen it can freeze or cool as much product as freezers twice its size. Pretorius says Cryoline technology has many advantages of traditional mechanical freezers and other cryogenic tunnel freezers.
The products enter the freezer and are cooled with liquid nitrogen, which is circulated by high speed, highly efficient fans. As the product moves down the freezer, it is sprayed with liquid nitrogen at very low temperatures. This locks in the moisture and flavour of the product. The liquid nitrogen is then vaporised on the product, quickly removing heat from it, reducing the temperature of its surface and ensuring fast freezing. This results in the formation of relatively small ice crystals and therefore low cell deterioration. The resulting product has low drip loss and less dehydration, achieving a texture and flavour very similar to the fresh item. Hot cooked foods particularly benefit from the fast freezing offered by this technology.
“Cryogenic freezing really comes into its own where yield is of high importance in large volume production, for example, large meat patties,” Pretorius adds. “By carefully selecting the temperature and retention time, dehydration and therefore weight loss can easily be minimised.”