From chicken wings to shrimp, fresh vegetables and pasta, IQF allows processors to preserve food as individual pieces while protecting quality.
In this blog, we provide a concise overview of how IQF freezing works, and why it matters for food processing businesses, concluding with a look at some of the most common types of IQF freezing equipment.
IQF Meaning | What Does IQF Stand For?
IQF stands for “Individual Quick Freezing.” IQF is a common food processing technique that allows separate pieces of food to be frozen individually. These products can be found in retailers’ frozen food sections and in restaurants. Whether the frozen pieces are berries, cuts of meat, or French fries, the IQF process helps consumers receive separated frozen food products when they open the bag, rather than frozen clumps.
IQF v. Flash Freezing
IQF is often referred to by a variety of other names including “flash freezing,” “quick freezing,” and “super freezing.”
These terms all describe the actual freezing mechanism used on IQF products. While these terms can also be used to discuss fast freezing for non-IQF food as well, they illustrate an important fundamental advantage of IQF: a faster freeze means improved product quality and consistency. Two freezer types are commonly used by food processors: mechanical and cryogenic. Each type has tradeoffs of capital, operating cost, and product quality.
We describe the process used to achieve a rapid freeze in a bit more detail below.
How does individual quick-freezing work?
While the precise freezing mechanism can vary, the fundamentals of IQF processing typically look something like this:
- Individual pieces of food produced are deposited onto a conveyor belt.
- Products move along the conveyor belt into a mechanical or cryogenic fast freezer (we explore some important types of IQF equipment below).
- Items remain separated on the belt as they are fast-frozen.
- The product is ready for packaging with greatly reduced incidents of clumping.
What are the benefits of IQF?
- IQF Equipment can achieve a faster freeze to protect quality.
Ice crystals, which can damage food products if they become too large, tend to form in the key range of 31 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit. A faster freeze can protect product quality by rapidly bringing products below the 25-degree threshold once freezing has begun.
- Clump-free food offers a better customer experience.
If customers open their bag to find products frozen together, they are forced to break apart clumps or defrost the product. In addition to being inconvenient, this unnecessary handling also increases the risk of spoilage (especially vital for restaurant or food-service kitchens carefully managing frozen ingredient supplies). With IQF, consumers can defrost exactly the amount of food they need, enabling more precise portion control.
- Fresh, high-quality food for health-conscious consumers.
As consumer demand for fresh food with fewer preservatives accelerates, IQF will help food processors deliver. Fast freezing helps keep food fresh, locking in nutrients without additional chemical additives.
Additionally, IQF allows for the consistent processing of foods that are easily damaged in traditional block freezing (whether that’s fruit or delicate cuts of seafood). IQF can drive new market opportunities by opening new product categories for freezing.
- Reduced packaging requirements.
Because IQF products can be kept together in the same bag without clumping, they often require less packaging to protect quality. Reduced packaging can not only help push down costs but is a great feature for eco-conscious consumers who prefer to minimize waste.
Types of Individual Quick-Freezing Equipment
A variety of cryogenic or mechanical freezer designs can be used for IQF products. Each have their own pros and cons, and we recommend considering the best fit for your facility carefully.
Mechanical freezers are more capital intensive than cryogenic freezers, and customers must deal with hazardous ammonia refrigerant. However, they do find applicability in certain circumstances. To achieve IQF quality, techniques like air impingement or fluidized bed, can keep individual product items separated during the freezing process. Nevertheless, higher operating temperatures of mechanical freezers result in longer freezing times and can result in product dehydration and loss of product quality due to more ice crystal formation.
Cryogenic freezers are less capital intensive but tend to have a higher operating cost. Nonetheless, because of rapid freezing times, product quality is retained and high throughput in a small footprint is achievable. Technologies like flighted and triple pass freezers let the IQF product fall between a series of belt passes. However, the product can get damaged and create fines (and product losses). While immersions freezers offer a very rapid freeze, they are less efficient than other cryogenic freezers. Some of the newest IQF technologies – like Wave or Wave Impingement Freezers – gently agitate the product to keep it separated during the freezing process and maintain high product quality.
These freezers are also very efficient, which allows for high throughput in a small space. Learn how Tyson Foods replaced their CO2 tunnel freezer with the Messer Wave Impingement freezer and increased production from 4,500 lb/hr on average to up to 8,000 lb/hr.
Learn More About Harnessing the Benefits of IQF for Your Products
We offer an array of freezer designs employing the latest technologies to increase efficiency and meet strict hygiene standards. Reach out to our experienced food processing team to learn more using the form below.