According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs the world’s population stood at 7.3 billion in 2015, could reach 8.5 billion by 2030, and may top 9.7 billion by 2050. The global charity Action against Hunger, suggests that 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. Reports by the United Nations and the Institute for Mechanical Engineers estimate that 30-50% of food produced globally - up to 2 billion tonnes - is lost or wasted. 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. One of the world’s major french fries producers, which manufactures the equivalent of 50 million portions of french fries every day, is aiming to cut total energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions by 30%, by 2020.
There is notably high growth in both the demand for, and local production of, french fries in many developing countries. In Russia and 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 start ups around the world to tailor state-of-the art refrigeration plants and freezing solutions for their products.
GEA has developed innovative technologies that improve the efficiency, reliability and sustainability of our refrigeration and freezing systems, and also reduces the total cost of ownership. "Capital investment in the freezers represents up to 24% of the total cost of ownership over the 20-30 year lifespan of the freezer,’ comments John van Rooijen, Manager Application Development APC Utilities at GEA. ‘Another about 19% of that total cost relates to maintenance, but nearly 60% of total costs relates to energy consumption. As a single source supplier, GEA has the industrial know-how combined with the technological and engineering expertise to provide a holistic solution, and optimize refrigeration plants and freezers for our customers, so that the technology could pay for itself in just a few years.”
GEA innovations include the valve station control system for feeding refrigerant into the evaporator. This system precisely controls the air temperature and refrigerant circulation, resulting in improved product quality and energy savings. “Optimized freezer configuration combined with ammonia refrigerant technology means that we can also now raise the freezing temperature from -32°C to -25°C, which can save another 30% in energy requirements for this part of the freezing process,” John van Rooijen continues. “For an average freezer this could equate to €1.7 million in savings over, say, 20 years.”
GEA has also 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.”
The next generation of smart 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. The next generation of GEA’s freezing lines for french fries will 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 Aquantis™ laser sensor technology 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. As well as improving product quality, the technology can enable approximately 15% energy savings, and effectively pay for itself within four years.
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 wastage globally and ensure sustainable, environmentally sound food processing for this and future generations.