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Deep-freezing liquid nitrogen makes hot meals in Belgium.

Now well into its second year of operation, the cooperative effort between Pinguin NV and Volys Star to produce prepared dishes continues to be a win-win venture for each company.

The project initially took form in 1999 from a concept cooked up by Herwig Dejonghe of Westrozebeke, Belgium-headquartered Pinguin, a major producer of frozen vegetables. He saw no reason why the company's newly created d'LIS Food sister operation should not get together with a protein producer to create assembly cooking solutions for foodservice chefs as well as offer component cooking answers for the kitchen problems of time-pressed homemakers.

Antoon Leyn of Volys Star, a unit of the Belgian cattle feed group Versele-Laga which specializes in chicken and poultry, saw Dejonghe's point and promptly seized the opportunity to produce added-value poultry and vegetable dishes.

The task of turning out ready dishes proved to be trickier than first envisioned, however, as Herwig Dejonghe, general director of Pinguin, explained: "In developing our new range of meal components we wanted to be able to enhance vegetables with sauces or herbs that would retain exact proportions no matter what amount of vegetables the cook used. This requirement was hard to put into practice."

Volys Star had problems of a different sort.

"For us it was absolutely essential to retain the juices and structure of the meat," said Leyn. "Only then could it be assured that the meat in a meal component would be of the highest quality. Our product must also comply with all the other criteria such as portionability and shelf life. This was not possible with conventional freezing techniques."

As such, Volys Star opted for a nitrogen technology solution provided by Walton on Thames, Surrey, UK-based Air Products Plc. to freeze IQF meat meal components such as raw chicken strips and raw sate varieties as well as ready grilled spare ribs and marinated chicken pieces. This technique optimally retains the structure of loose-frozen meal products.

Pinguin went for Air Products' nitrogen technologies for very different reasons.

"We were keen to create IQF vegetable products which were ready coated with a layer of sauce or herbs which always stayed in the correct proportion, whatever the amount of produce used," said Dejonghe. "This was not possible using conventional freezing techniques.

Ann Callens of Air Products explained how it is achieved, as follows:

Coating involves three processes -- mixing, individually quick freezing, and coating the product with sauce or herbs. With conventional freezing techniques the freezing temperature stays relatively high at -18 [degrees] C). At this temperature it is impossible to apply an even coating of sauce or herbs around loose frozen products because they can stick together when the warmer sauce or herb layer is added. But if the IQF vegetables are frozen very quickly with nitrogen when mixed with the sauce or herbs, then the relatively wanner sauce will adhere evenly to the vegetables and will retain their IQF shape.

These processes can all take place in a single cryogenic machine. The perfect combination of temperature, process time, sauce or herb addition and rotation speed allows the different portions to be evenly coated with just the right amount of sauce or herbs. The coating can be made thinner or thicker depending on the amount added in the various stages.

In this way, noted Dejonghe, Pinguin can produce fresh-frozen spinach that is already par-boiled and has a coating of cream sauce on each loose frozen portion. In the same way, a par-boiled broccoli mix can be made that has a ready layer of cheese sauce on each head of broccoli.

Nitrogen offers a number of commercial advantages, according to Callens. "Such freezing systems are flexible to use and easy to integrate into existing line or batch production processes."

Although nitrogen as a chilling medium is relatively more expensive that the convention mechanical methods of industrial freezing, the initial investment costs are low. The choice to go with nitrogen is therefore influenced by how long it takes to recover these costs.
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Title Annotation:Pinguin NV and Volys Star cooperative deal
Comment:Deep-freezing liquid nitrogen makes hot meals in Belgium.(Pinguin NV and Volys Star cooperative deal)
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUNE
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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