Foodservice operators most commonly use blast chillers to chill food prior to storing it as part of a cook-chill process. By halting the cooking cycle, blast chilling helps retain food quality, appearance, nutritional value and flavor.
During this process, the blast chiller cools the food relatively rapidly. With blast chillers, food temperatures decrease from 160 degrees F to 38 degrees F in 90 minutes or less. This takes product safely through the dangerous temperature zone of between 135 degrees F and 41 degrees F, which helps hinder the growth of bacteria and pathogens.
This chilling method forms microcrystals on products rather than evaporating moisture like traditional freezing methods, which can dehydrate food. As a result, most blast chilled product can be stored safely for up to five days.
Blast chiller capacities range from 35 pounds up to as much as 1,300 pounds. These units come in countertop, undercounter, reach-in, roll-in and roll-thru models. Countertop blast chillers are the smallest units, while roll-in types are the largest. Most blast chillers utilize 2-inch deep pans that accommodate about 10 pounds of product at one time. Some models have rack systems that correlate with cooking equipment, such as combi ovens.
This equipment typically features stainless steel interiors and exteriors. Standard blast chiller features include either self-contained or remote condensing units and built-in electric defrost capabilities that eliminate condenser coil condensation.
In addition to being part of a cook-chill system, operators can utilize this equipment for chilling salad plates prior to serving; cooling wine and beer glassware; setting gelatin desserts; refrigerating beverages quickly; and reducing the temperature of hot product rapidly for easier handling.
Instead of incorporating a stand-alone blast chiller, operations with smaller footprints can designate space within walk-ins for this equipment. In the last three to five years, there also has been a big movement toward combining blast chillers with blast freezers.
Operators can choose from a variety of options and features, depending on the blast chiller model. Some types provide an ultra-violet light that sanitizes the cabinet’s interior. Units with DC connections, printers, extra probes and preprogramming features also are available.
Newer innovations with these units include an automatic or hands-free cycle start and advanced data management features. The monitoring technology of these units has improved greatly in recent years. For example, in the past, operators would use handheld thermometers and a written log to track the temperature of food being chilled. With today’s more sophisticated technology, the majority of these units now offer data recording capabilities for Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) documentation, with models using different methods to accomplish this.
Most blast chillers utilize a printer that records information on paper, while others have either a data port to upload reports to a computer or a USB drive for downloading temperature details on a portable storage device. Each method offers both pros and cons. For example, operators who choose a unit that prints HACCP data will need to purchase paper and designate a storage area to file these documents. Blast chillers connected to computers may require special cables or access to hook up lines.
This equipment’s energy use varies depending on the model. These units utilize more power than standard refrigeration equipment, because they seek to bring down product temperatures more quickly instead of simply holding food at a safe temperature. However, units that offer two independent cooling compartments provide greater energy efficiency, because they can chill smaller amounts of product in single compartments. A smaller chilling area makes the process more energy efficient.
Also offering added efficiency are blast chillers with parameter modification modes, which decrease energy usage.