As the frozen food market continues to go from strength to strength, cryogenic freezing is becoming an increasingly popular option with food manufacturers looking for a quicker way of freezing without compromising on quality.
We spoke to Denise Rion, Head of the Technical Department at the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF), about the benefits of cryogenic freezing and how it can help food manufacturers overcome some of the challenges they are currently facing.
Cryogenic vs mechanical freezing
Cryogenic freezing works by spraying food with, or immersing it in, liquid nitrogen or carbon dioxide, freezing it almost instantly. In comparison, mechanical freezing works by circling chemical refrigerants such as ammonia or carbon dioxide to cool the air within the freezer. Traditional freezing can get down to around -40 degrees, while cryogenic freezing can reach temperatures close to as low as -200 degrees within minutes, depending on the gas used.
Benefits of cryogenic freezing
The ability to reach incredibly low temperatures at super-fast speeds is arguably the biggest benefit of cryogenic freezing as it results in a better quality end-product.
“Freezing essentially stops time, it preserves the characteristics of fresh food, and because cryogenics works so much faster it inhibits bacterial growth and stops any biochemical reactions much quicker,” says Denise. “It really locks in the freshness of the food, which is a huge plus as it helps retain all those organoleptic properties. It also reduces any dehydration that might occur, so you’ll probably get a better product yield as well.”
There are a host of practical benefits too. Denise says: “The size of the equipment is much smaller on the whole and takes up less floor space. It’s really easy to clean too, so you’re going to get less downtime, which is a huge bonus for manufacturers.”
Challenges facing food manufacturers today
There are a number of challenges facing food manufacturers today. In an increasingly competitive market, there’s pressure to offer high quality, innovative products, but also to get them in shops quickly and at the right price point. Plus, there’s an increased focus on offering products that are low in salt and sugar, to stay in line with government restrictions, but that are tasty enough to tempt shoppers.
There are also the potential implications of the UK’s exit from the EU, which could make it harder to get hold of various ingredients and increase the price of importing goods.
“It’s a hard time for the food industry at the moment,” says Denise. “Trying to meet customer expectations, adhere to government restrictions and figure out how to work with a potentially reduced haul of ingredients is putting a lot of pressure on companies.”
Cryogenic freezing is well positioned to help food producers weather any potential storms, whether it’s by making it easier to offer premium quality frozen foods which entice customers, or enabling a wider variety of seasonal British produce to be frozen and enjoyed year round, filling any gaps created post-Brexit.
Looking to the future
Cryogenic freezing is also poised to help food manufacturers capitalise on the trends for plant-based food options.
“We’re seeing a big rise in people wanting to eat a more meat-free diet. Even if they’re not vegan or vegetarian, many people are cutting down the amount of meat they eat for environmental reasons,” says Denise. “Cryogenics could really come into play when it comes to developing high-quality meat-free products.”
“Food waste is also a big issue and one that’s only going to become more prominent,” she continues. “Frozen food is much less likely to be thrown away than fresh, and the more high-quality frozen products there are on the market the more likely people are to opt for something frozen, with a long shelf-life that is, ultimately, less likely to end up in the bin.”
“There are some fantastic frozen products on the market at the moment, you can even get frozen avocado slices for example. Cryogenic freezing can help take this even further.”
Inside BOC’s Food Technology Centre
Denise recently visited BOC’s Food Technology Centre, a purpose-built laboratory in Oxfordshire where companies can put cryogenic food freezing to the test on their own food products. It’s the only testing centre of its kind operated by a cryogenic gas company in the UK.
“Visiting BOC’s Food Technology Centre really opened my eyes to the benefits cryogenic freezing can bring,” says Denise. “The set-up and the equipment at the centre are excellent. There’s everything companies need to really put cryogenic freezing to the test on their products and see if it’s right for them. There’s a range of different freezers to test so companies can really see what would work best for them. It’s the closest thing to full-scale production they can get.”
Download our free guide to cryogenic food freezing below.