There are plenty of options for preserving foods in the wide world of food processing and packaging, including traditional processes such as canning and salting.
However, freezing is perhaps the most popular way to preserve food in the modern world.
Freezing helps maintain the nutritional value of food products and improves their flavor in the process. Frozen food also allows consumers to store their favorite goodies for an extended time.
When I talk about the state-of-art technology in frozen food applications, there is perhaps no other better version of the processing than individual quick freezing (IQF).
So, what is this IQF, and how is it important in food processing and preservation?
What does IQF mean in Food Processing?
Individual quick freezing, also known as flash freezing, is a technique that prevents large ice crystals from forming in food cells.
This method of frozen food packaging is incredibly unique due to its ability to individually freeze all its components and keep them separate from each other.
For instance, if I use an IQF freezer to freeze a batch of berries, the berries won’t get clumped and frozen together.
Instead, every single batch will be separated inside the packaging. That makes it much easier to freeze and store food products such as peas, beef, salmon, poultry, etc.
How an IQF Freezer Works
The working process of the IQF freezer relies on air circulation that directly flows from under the convey belt or bedplate through the help of installed fans. Fast enough, freezing causes smaller ice crystals to form within the product.
Food products frozen through slower freezing appear to be damaged and dry out when they are defrosted. The formation of large ice crystals damages the cell walls, reducing food quality.
IQF, however, doesn’t allow the process of larger ice crystals formation to take place.
Due to the rapid freezing of the product, the cells within the food are undamaged and preserved, which ensures a higher quality product is achieved every time.
Individual Quick Freezing Temperature-time Combination
Ice crystallization occurs between -1 º F to -4º C or 30 º F to 25º F. IQF freezers freeze content very fast, bypassing this critical zone as quickly as possible.
This ensures that the food freeze without getting the chance to form ice crystals within itself, therefore maintaining product quality.
How Does Individual Quick Freezing Preserve Food?
Individual quick freezing delays spoilage and keeps food safe by inhibiting microbial activity and reducing the enzyme activity that causes food to go bad.
As the water freezes into ice crystals, it becomes inaccessible to those pathogens that require it to thrive.
However, most microorganisms (except parasites) are only inactivated and will remain alive when frozen, so you must handle your food safely before freezing and after defrosting.
Examples of IQF Food Products
Here are some common examples of IQF food products.
i. IQF Chicken
IQF chicken is a uniquely preserved food product. The product is preserved using advanced technology that rapidly freezes individual pieces of poultry, retaining both taste and quality.
The fast-freezing time ensures the product remains fresh, from the time you open the bag to the time you serve your guests.
If you are a parent buying chicken for your family or a restaurant owner buying wholesale chicken, IQF chicken will give you quality meat every time you open the bag.
ii. IQF Meats
IQF meats are stored in extremely low temperatures or advanced refrigerators. This method is ideal for preserving meat as it prevents the growth of microorganisms that causes staleness or foul odor in the product.
After freezing, the meat retains its nutritional value and quality as it possesses when fresh.
iii. IQF fruits
IQF preserves the ripeness and nutritional value of the fruits. This process also allows the pieces of the fruits to be preserved individually rather than in bulk.
This gives the customers more control and ease of use when preparing the fruit after buying.
In addition, this makes it easier to avoid rotting and wastage of fruits in your home.
If you are looking for an IQF fruit supplier, I recommend you try SunLeaf, and they will connect you with a plant-based provider you can trust.
iv. IQF Vegetables
IQF vegetables are the most preferred choice due to their benefits and qualities. They are readily available and quick to cook or prepare a wide range of dishes. Frozen vegetables don’t lose their nutrients while undergoing the freezing process and so branding them as healthy won’t be wrong.
v. IQF Seafood
IQF helps maintain the fresh quality of seafood while reducing drip loss. With IQF, the cell damage caused during the refrigeration process is reduced therefore maintaining the texture and flavor of the product, even after defrosting.
You can find some of them on Amazon.
How to IQF at home
The process of individual quick freezing your food at home is simple but takes a little bit of additional prep time. Here I outline the best way to flash freeze your food.
- First, wash or rinse your food if needed. It is always important to clean food products, including fresh fruits and vegetables, and remove their stems before freezing.
- Separate the food into single pieces to prepare for individual quick freezing.
- Put the food on a large tray or baking sheet to prepare for freezing. Ensure the food edges are not getting into contact to ensure they don’t cohere.
- Place the food into an IQF freezer.
- Once completely frozen, remove the food from the tray or sheet and put it into freezer-safe storage bags or containers.
- Label the bag or container and return the food to the freezer. Your food is now IQF frozen.
Here is a YouTube video to help you learn how to flash freeze your food with IQF.
What are some IQF Benefits?
There are numerous reasons why chefs and restaurant owners need to incorporate IQF frozen foods into their menus. Here are some benefits these types of foods can offer.
Better Product Quality
Frozen food receives undeserved reputations in some circles. In reality, however, it can be more nutritious than fresh food.
IQF gets frozen at peak freshness. That means when you defrost and use it in your cooking, the food offers you the maximum amount of minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients.
Furthermore, IQF food doesn’t need the use of preservatives or additives. You get to enjoy healthy, whole foods with zero exposure to preservatives added in to try and keep the food fresh.
Reduced Food Degradation
Some foods degrade after being frozen and become dried out or limp. This occurs when large ice crystals form and cause damage to the food fibers.
Luckily, you can avoid this issue when you use IQF frozen food.
Since these foods are quickly frozen, the formed ice crystals are much smaller. They cause way less damage to the food, thus helping you improve and maintain the quality of meals you are serving.
Less Packaging Waste
IQF foods often require less packaging than other types of frozen foods. Some people will use separate packaging for products such as beef or chicken to prevent pieces from sticking together. The problem with this is that it can lead to a ton of additional waste.
When you use IQF, you don’t have to worry about food products getting stuck together. In turn, this means reduced packaging and less waste ending up in landfills. This is good for your health and the environment.
Recommended IQF Equipment for Home Use
Here are some of the recommended IQF equipment for household use.
i. Blast Freezer Line
Blast freezer line is suitable for freezing food products while maintaining ideal moisture retention, quantity, flavor, and texture.
It executes this using high-speed internal cooling techniques, which rapidly cool down the internal temperature in the freezer. This reduces damage caused to the cells within the product.
Blancher-cooler equipment comes in either perforated drum-type or belt-type design. The equipment is suitable for blanching and cooling non-sticky products such as green peas, spinach, sweet corn (cobs or seed), broccoli, pepper, and cauliflower.
iii. Blast Chiller
Blast chiller quickly chills and freezes fresh or partly cooked food much faster than a regular home freezer, preventing essential qualities of the food.
After defrosting, the food appears like it was never frozen, and the texture and taste are not compromised.
Read Also: Does Almond Milk Need to Be Refrigerated?
i. Does freezing food affect nutrition?
Frozen foods generally retain their minerals and vitamins, and there is no change in fat, protein, and carbohydrate content. In some cases, frozen food even contains more minerals and vitamins than fresh products since fresh foods lose minerals and vitamins over time while freezing preserves nutrients.
ii. What is the difference between IQF and blast freezing?
IQF dramatically reduces the number of ice crystals on products. Since it freezes fast, it forms smaller ice crystals than blast freezing does.
Slower freezing means larger ice crystals, which expand the cell walls and damage the product. IQF slows down this process to a minimum, giving you better quality frozen products with improved appearance.
iii. Does fast freeze use more electricity?
Generally, a fast freeze uses less power than an ordinary refrigerator. On average, an energy star top-freezer uses approximately 360 kWh or $45 a year to run. However, the freezer efficiency is determined by the fans and total motor power.