According to the United Nations projections, the world’s population could reach 8.5 billion by 2030, and may top 9.7 billion by 2050. Therefore, we will have to increase food production by 70% to feed this rapidly expanding global population. Increasing farming practices will not be enough to solve the global demand for food, however. The development and global implementation of more efficient, energy- and resource-saving technologies will help industry to meet the increased demand for food, while reducing environmental impact and ensuring sustainability.
Reducing food waste must represent a major component of the equation. Food may be lost due to a number of inadequacies during production and processing, as well as market or consumer trends. These range from poor storage and inadequate transportation logistics to consumer overbuying. The installation of efficient, sustainable refrigeration and freezing technologies also plays a vital role in preventing waste due to food spoilage.
Frozen potato products - a global commodity
French fries producers represent one sector of the food industry that is increasing production volume to meet growing demand worldwide. French fries and other frozen potato products have become a global commodity, the increased demand for which is driven largely by the rising popularity of Western-style cuisine, and in particular quick service restaurants. Growth of the middle classes in countries like India and China is increasing demand for processed and convenience foods. This is putting increased pressure on the food processing and transportation industries to meet demand and retain quality. At the same time, all industrial sectors have a responsibility to meet sustainability targets, reduce water and energy usage, and minimize waste and emissions.
Approximately 60% of the total cost of producing french fries relates to energy consumption, so manufactures are working hard to cut energy usage, as well as reduce water consumption, waste streams and emissions.
There is notably high growth in both the demand for, and local production of, french fries in many developing countries. In China in particular, major end users such as McDonalds are encouraging local production, rather than the importation of products processed in the US or Europe. Joint ventures between the US and European manufacturers, and local companies, are being established to provide processing knowledge and expertise, and to ensure the quality of the end product.
Taking down the temperature
The commercial production of french fries involves multiple stages. The potatoes are washed and sorted, then steam peeled before being cut into the desired shapes, sorted, blanched, dried and then fried. After cooking the french fries are pre-cooled and chilled prior to freezing. This involves a series of temperature reduction steps that take the temperature down from +90°C to -18°C. The sequential cooling and freezing process is specific to potato products, and ensures that the right product texture, color and taste are retained.
Sequential cooling and freezing
The cooling and freezing process is, therefore, critical to the final quality of french fries, and is commonly carried out in a freezing tunnel that comprises different zones that pre-cool, refrigerate and freeze the product sequentially as it progresses through. A typical freezing tunnel for french fries may be 30 meters in length, 5-8 meters wide and 5 meters high, and have the capacity to freeze 30 tons of french fries per hour.
GEA innovations improve sustainability and reduce costs
GEA has witnessed a drive by its customers in the french fries and other food processing sectors to embrace effective, sustainable technologies for preservation and storage. By installing efficient cooling and freezing solutions producers can significantly improve the overall energy efficiency of the production process, as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions. GEA is a recognized world leader in the development of cooling and refrigeration technologies, from individual components and compressors, to complete refrigeration and freezing plants. We work with the major established french fries producers, and with startups around the world to tailor state-of-the art refrigeration plants and freezing solutions for their products.
GEA has developed heat pump solutions that can channel the heat removed from the freezer to elsewhere in the production process, for example to heat up water, for cleaning, or even for use in the process of drying the french fries before they are fried. “The installation of GEA heat pump technology for drying french fries at a site for one of the world’s largest french fries producers enabled 70% energy savings in the drying process. Designed to condense 1,500 kg of water per hour, the technology reduced natural gas consumption at the facility by 800,000 Nm3 per year, and allowed a return on investment within just four years.” comments John van Rooijen, Technical Manager, GEA Heating & Refrigeration Technologies.
Future proof technologies
GEA works closely with the industry to address real needs, such as increasing production capacity or extending continuous production time, while in parallel optimizing processing and sustainability. GEA’s freezing lines for french fries can feature advanced automation systems that can adjust the parameters of the freezer and refrigeration system automatically, dependent upon the product characteristics and requirements. GEA’s innovative CALLIFREEZE® control continually measures the product’s level of frozenness. The system then interacts with the freezer and refrigeration control-command system to optimize temperature and freezing time. CALLIFREEZE® has been proven to reduce power consumption and improve freezer efficiency. Tests running CALLIFREEZE® with GEA freezers have resulted in a considerable increase in production capacity - by up to 20%, whilst also achieving a reduction in energy consumption of 10%.
Backed by world-leading service support for the complete lifespan of every GEA system or technology, our solutions don’t just address industry needs today. Our solutions are designed to ensure efficient, reliable processing that will help to reduce product waste and carbon footprint globally and ensure sustainable, environmentally sound food processing for this and future generations.