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Sun Valley finds radio frequency improves quality, and saves money and time.

A unique application of radio frequency heating, pioneered by Sun Valley Poultry at Hereford, has resulted in quality improvements and annual production savings valued at more than 335,000 [pounds]. The new process, used to defrost frozen chicken pieces, was developed in association with Petrie and McNaught Ltd and E A Technology, following consultation with Midlands Electricity Plc. It achieved a payback period on the project investment of less than six months.

Sun Valley Poultry won the Category 2 Award (for companies with more than 100 employees) in the Midlands Electricity's regional finals of the 1991 PEP Awards. They also won MEB's Advanced Technology Award for pioneering this innovative technology.

The new system was developed after Sun Valley Poultry decided they had to overcome production bottlenecks caused by extended defrosting times that occurred preparing deboned chicken meat for use in lines of ready-to-cook products.

Their former defrosting process consisted of transferring frozen meat from the cold store at-18C and stacking it in liners and crates in a temperature controlled area. The meat was regularly rotated by a team of eight staff to achieve even defrosting. This technique involved high cleaning costs and tied up production space and working capital.

Such a system was inflexible. The meat often took up to four days to defrost, which was a major problem when Sun Valley had to meet supermarkets' variable order schedules, which often changed on a daily basis. The inherent inefficiencies of the process often resulted in production losses of some seven percent of useful chicken meat. It sometimes also allowed incomplete defrosting, which resulted in damage to machinery and made mixing difficult.

When their production development saw a demonstration of radio frequency melting in 1988, they realised this could be a potential solution to their problem.

So the company then established a project team, and a series of trial machines were built. After proving tests, a full scale system was designed and subsequently commissioned in August 1990.

As blocks of frozen chicken meat, in plastics liners, pass through the defroster on a conveyor, four radio frequency generators produce a field of energy through which each block must pass. This energy is prefErentially absorbed by water or ice molecules within the meat to give rapid and even warming throughout each block. An automatic control system allows energy input to be precisely programmed in four stages, and the system can be preset for different sizes of frozen meat block to suit production requirements.

With the new system, defrosting times have been cut from 3 to 4 days to under two hours! This enables Sun Valley to quickly adjust production output on a

daily basis to meet the needs of their major supermarket customers.

However, the most important benefit is an improvement in product quality. By shortening defrosting time, the total meat processing time has been reduced, which further minimizes the risk of microbial growth.

Meat defrost losses have also been reduced by some 92 percent and, with the reduction in labour from a team of eight to just two and other benefits, the total annual net savings have reached 335,000 [pounds]!
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Title Annotation:Sun Valley Poultry
Publication:Food Trade Review
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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