When Gianni Guglielmetti, the new president of Pierino Frozen Foods Inc. decided to upgrade his gourmet pasta operation with a new cryogenic freezer from Linde LLC, he could not have foreseen the egg crisis coming — or fully appreciated the advantage that the new freezer now offers.

Based in Lincoln Park, Mich., Pierino Frozen Foods purchases Grade A eggs in bulk to make pasta noodles. Incoming ingredient quality remains paramount to success, but there is no controlling commodity pricing. Since December, more than 48 million birds have been lost in avian flu control efforts — all of which has driven up egg prices.

Guglielmetti first began exploring a new way to individually quick freeze (IQF) food products in 2014 after learning about a rolling-wave IQF freezer from Linde LLC. The Cryoline CW (Cryowave) IQF freezer had already been put to work by food processors to individually quick freeze diced poultry, meatballs, mushrooms and other foods. The freezer uses a proprietary rolling-wave action to keep items on the belt separate as they freeze.

For Pierino Frozen Foods, the IQF freezer had the potential to help the plant reduce losses due to tears and breakage and achieve more consistent product quality, Guglielmetti said. This is no small feat when processing thousands of pounds per hour of wet pasta.

Traditional IQF flighted freezers can easily break fragile products and are prone to carbon dioxide (CO2) snow buildup, requiring frequent clean outs for maintenance. Even with traditional inline tunnel freezers, IQF items tend to stick to the belt and clump together when blasted with cryogen at temperatures well in excess of -50°F (-45°C). Sticking, tearing, clumping contribute to product losses

“The stuffed pasta market is very competitive. We’ve been working with Linde since we first entered cryogenic freezing more than 15 years ago, and they’ve always stepped up to the plate in trying to make us more efficient. So they’ve helped us grow, and they’ve increased our capacity for further growth — and sometimes that’s more important,” says Gianni who assumed the helm as president after his father, Pierino, retired last year.

When purchasing new inline freezers, many processors buy based on rated specifications, only to find the reality falls short, Gianni added. Before installing the Cryowave freezer, Pierino tested a variety of its filled and unfilled gourmet pasta products at the Linde food laboratory in Cleveland.

Linde performs turnkey installations, including cryogen supply. For Pierino, Linde supplied liquid nitrogen (LIN) as well as vacuum-jacketed piping, process exhaust, safety training and process optimization services — temperature, belt speed and belt wave frequency — for each recipe.

For any process, optimizing quality and productivity over time requires vigilance. As part of the service agreement, Linde engineering team performs maintenance and regularly monitors the process for adjustment. Equally important, the food contact gases Linde supplies the food and beverage industry must meet strict standards as food ingredients, per new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) requirements going into effect in August. Linde has a food safety management system in place for all bulk carbon dioxide (CO2) plants and air separation facilities supplying the food & beverage industry in North America.

While the price pressures created by egg shortages will fade, and crises may come and go, competitive advantages can extend into the future. After six months running the Cryowave, Pierino Frozen Foods reduced nitrogen consumption about 16 percent compared to the existing tunnel freezer while increasing throughput, on average, up to 25 to 40 percent. In addition, because the wet incoming items can touch on the rolling-wave belt, the company was able to reduce labor on the incoming side by one person.