The evolution of refrigeration in the food industry is proof of how innovation and sustainability can converge to benefit both businesses and the planet. Undoubtedly, owners and managers of companies in this sector must be attentive to these trends and consider the adoption of advanced technologies. This decision will improve cold chain management, reduce costs, and contribute to a more sustainable future. Investing in cutting-edge refrigeration systems not only ensures the quality and safety of food but also represents a step towards the environmental responsibility demanded by our time.
The refrigeration process in the food industry
Let’s visualize the journey from the farm to the consumer’s table. In this journey, food may encounter invisible but potentially harmful threats: bacteria. To prevent their proliferation and ensure the integrity of products, temperature control is essential. Bacteria thrive in environments with nutrients, moisture, and optimal temperatures, allowing them to reproduce rapidly. In many cases, they can cause foodborne illnesses.
The “danger zone,” which spans temperatures between 4ºC and 60ºC, is especially critical. In this range, the number of bacteria can double in less than 20 minutes. Keeping food out of this zone is crucial to ensuring consumer safety.
This is where the refrigeration process in the food industry comes into play. Constant monitoring of the target temperature for each product is a fundamental pillar of proper food preservation. Cold storage rooms, transport trucks, displays, and refrigerated trays must have devices that allow the analysis and correction of temperature in real-time. This prevents possible deviations that could jeopardize food safety.
An optimized and quality refrigeration system, supported by thorough preventive and predictive maintenance, is the key to maintaining total control over the cold chain. This not only ensures the quality and safety of food but also contributes to operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.
Cold chain and sustainability, keys in refrigeration in the food industry
The importance of the cold chain goes beyond ensuring food safety and product quality. It is also intrinsically related to sustainability and environmental responsibility. Properly maintaining the cold chain is a crucial step towards waste reduction and environmental care.
By ensuring optimal food preservation, we avoid the waste of products that could deteriorate or expire before reaching the end consumer. This not only benefits businesses by reducing economic losses but also has a direct impact on the reduction of food waste, which is an increasingly important concern in today’s world.
When discussing sustainability in refrigeration, it is essential to mention the role of natural refrigerants such as CO2 and NH3. These refrigerants represent not only the present but also the future of the refrigeration process in the food industry. They are more environmentally friendly and have a lower impact on global warming compared to older synthetic refrigerants.
Meat and fruits, practical examples of refrigeration in the food industry
Certainly, refrigeration in the sector finds its highest expression in preserving essential foods such as meat and fruits. These two practical examples of refrigeration in the food industry illustrate how the cold chain plays a crucial role in the preservation and safety of these products from origin to the end consumer.
Refrigeration of meat
Meat is a fundamental source of protein in the diet of many people worldwide. Preserving it at suitable temperatures is essential to prevent bacteria proliferation, ensure its quality, and extend its shelf life throughout the process:
- Slaughterhouses: During the initial stage of meat production in the slaughterhouse, refrigeration is used to slow down bacterial growth and ensure the freshness of the meat. After slaughter, the meat is quickly cooled to prevent unwanted bacterial growth. This is essential for food safety and the quality of the final product.
- Cutting and packaging rooms: In cutting and packaging rooms, refrigeration plays a fundamental role. Vacuum packaging extends the shelf life and preserves the quality of the meat. At temperatures of -18 ºC, raw meat can maintain its properties for up to 15 months, while vacuum-packed, it can last between two and three years frozen. Freezing at these temperatures forms ice crystals in the meat, preventing microorganisms from developing and taking advantage of liquid water for their metabolism. This freezing process is essential for long-term meat preservation.
- Commercial refrigeration and distribution: Once the meat reaches supermarkets and retail establishments, commercial refrigeration plays a critical role. Cooling meat to appropriate temperatures, typically around -30 ºC, is essential to preserve its quality and freshness. Although meat can stay fresh for up to seven days, it is recommended not to spend more than three days on supermarket shelves. Therefore, perfect temperature control and maintenance are crucial at all times.
Refrigeration of fruits
Investing in refrigeration systems, whether in the commercial or industrial sector, is a key strategy to ensure that fruits reach consumers in the best possible condition. The essential purposes of properly refrigerating these products are:
- Delaying ripening and senescence: Refrigeration delays the ripening of fruits and prevents senescence, which is the aging of tissue cells. This allows fruits to stay fresh and tasty for a longer time, benefiting both producers and consumers.
- Preventing the attack of microorganisms: Refrigeration not only slows down ripening but also prevents the growth of microorganisms that can deteriorate the fruit.
- Minimizing quantitative and qualitative losses: Refrigeration in cold storage rooms controls temperature, humidity, air circulation, and renewal. This minimizes quantitative and qualitative losses of products, which is essential for both producers and retailers.
Advanced technologies in transforming refrigeration in the food industry
In an increasingly sustainability and efficiency-focused market, refrigeration in the food industry is constantly evolving. Advanced technologies are transforming how the cold chain is managed, promoting food safety. Here, we will mention some of these innovations and how they are revolutionizing the industry.
Automation and real-time monitoring
One of the most significant advances in refrigeration is automation. Advanced control systems allow real-time monitoring of temperature and other critical parameters. This ensures accuracy and stability in the storage and transportation of food but also provides detailed insights to business owners and managers about their operations.
Furthermore, real-time monitoring prevents temperature deviations and helps identify potential issues before they become serious failures. This makes it possible to take proactive measures and avoid costly losses. Control systems send alerts when abnormal conditions are detected, improving responsiveness and cold chain safety.
Energy-efficient and natural refrigerants
Energy efficiency is another key factor in the evolution of refrigeration in the food industry. The design of current systems helps reduce energy consumption, decreasing operational costs and reducing the carbon footprint of facilities. This is especially important at a time when sustainability is a priority.
As mentioned earlier, the use of natural refrigerants such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and ammonia (NH3) is integral to this trend. These refrigerants have a significantly lower environmental impact compared to older synthetic refrigerants. Besides, environmental regulations and standards are driving the adoption of these sustainable refrigerants worldwide.
Smart refrigeration technologies
Smart refrigeration is a growing reality in the food industry. Energy management and control systems allow more precise temperature and humidity optimization. This ensures that food stays in optimal conditions without wasting energy.
The incorporation of the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and machine learning into refrigeration allows predicting potential problems before they occur. In this regard, algorithms can analyze real-time data and anticipate equipment failures, meaning less downtime and fewer product losses.
More efficient cooling systems
On the other hand, advances in compressor and evaporator technology are allowing refrigeration systems to be more efficient and sustainable. Inverter compressors, for example, adjust their speed according to demand, reducing energy consumption and increasing the lifespan of equipment.
At Intersam, we design systems and structures for refrigeration in the food industry
Intersam is a company with over 28 years of experience in the design and development of refrigeration and air conditioning systems for industry and commerce. We offer customized solutions, whether you need to acquire prefabricated units or are looking for a tailor-made project.
Our equipment and infrastructure use state-of-the-art technology to ensure low energy consumption, reducing costs, and being environmentally friendly. Additionally, we use ecological refrigerants, recycle raw materials, and control the consumption of water, oil, and energy in our processes.
Moreover, at Intersam, we can take on refrigeration projects in the food industry in Spain and anywhere in the world. Contact us!