Exclusive: Stable Temperature Is Essential in a Cold Storage
Cold storage operators are tasked with keeping frozen food, including frozen French fries, at the appropriate temperatures as it travels from farm to fork. Different foods and even different elements within the food require different temperatures to remain frozen. The key to maintaining food quality and shelf life is temperature stability, explained Damon Vance, marketing director with Viking Cold Solutions, for Potato Business.
Food quality and shelf life can be maintained only with a stable temperature throughout the cold chain, Vance highlights. “Once a product is frozen, the shelf life clock starts to tick down, and with every temperature fluctuation more shelf life is lost, especially in those products with a large percentage of water. Thermal energy storage (TES) helps maintain up to 50% more stable temperatures. This helps protect frozen food quality and preserve shelf life while reducing energy consumption,” he says.
For example, ice crystals forming on the surface of frozen fries and a change in texture are losses in product quality that can occur. With every temperature fluctuation, something more is happening at a micro level inside frozen food.
On the other hand, because temperature stability is paramount, the cold stores must be prepared for power outages and equipment failure. Thermal energy storage provides stable temperature three times longer in these situations, which provides additional time to correct the problem, find temporary power sources, and delay the use of generators and fuel for longer periods, Vance explains.
Talking about reducing the energy consumption, in low-temperature cold storage facilities the biggest impact an operator can make on energy efficiency and energy costs will be with TES. The most efficient technologies are able to make incremental efficiency improvements. According to Vance, TES can reduce energy costs up to 35% by increasing refrigeration system efficiency, reducing overall consumption, and shifting refrigeration run time outside of peak pricing hours.
“Our systems leverage existing refrigeration equipment to freeze phase change material (PCM) when energy costs are lower and refrigeration system efficiencies can be maximized. Intelligent controls are then able to idle refrigeration equipment for extended periods of time (up to 15 hours) when energy costs are high while the PCM absorbs up to 85% of heat infiltration and maintains low energy consumption. The result is up to 35% lower energy costs, with even greater temperature stability, and less risk to frozen food,” the specialist with Viking Cold Solutions says.
The company’s patented TES systems combine the thermodynamic properties of phase change material (PCM) and intelligent controls to provide operational and food protection benefits in walk-in freezers and frozen food warehouses. Future applications of this technology move both towards the farm and towards the fork. “We anticipate the technology being applied in the field as close to harvesting as possible. TES technology has huge implications in the production facility and on the road in transportation. We are also in development in refrigeration applications inside restaurants and retail locations,” Vance adds.
The TES systems also include a 24/7 remote monitoring, reporting, and notification portal. Having real time data for temperatures, equipment status, and power usage allow operators to make quicker and better-informed business decision for their operations. The added visibility also detects and identifies potential equipment problems before they become catastrophic or more expensive to repair. This data capture additionally allows operators to grade energy efficiency performance of their facilities for further improvements and as a way to continually document their sustainability initiatives.