Advanced Freezing Technology Helps Vegetable Processor Meet Lofty Production Goals

Frozen-pea producer Foodhills faced significant processing interruptions due to limited freezing equipment. The company solved that problem with a new IQF tunnel freezer, unlocking continuous production and reducing downtime.

Foodhills FPS tunnel freezer frozen peas
Inside Foodhills' IQF tunnel freezer, continuous production of frozen peas is enabled due to the machine’s sequential defrost feature, which allows defrost of individual chambers while other chambers continue working.

Timing can be crucial in food manufacturing, particularly when it comes to processing frozen peas. The delicate vegetable can start to lose its freshness, flavor, and nutrients after harvesting, and for a company that produces frozen peas, the clock is always ticking to retain quality, minimize waste, and maximize yield each growing season.

These are the factors that regularly face Foodhills AB, a Swedish food processor headquartered in Bjuv. The company started producing frozen peas in 2018, and currently exports to clients in Germany, China, the U.S., Argentina, Chile, Canada, New Zealand, Finland, Mexico, Spain, Australia, and other countries, as well as domestic customers.

Foodhills initially purchased an IQF tunnel freezer to handle pea production in 2018. However, that freezer lacked a sequential defrost feature, which allows separate chambers to be defrosted while other chambers can continue working. Consequently, when Foodhills needed to defrost their freezer, production shut down completely about every 12 hours, creating inconvenient downtime during peak season. The result was only 130 metric tonnes of peas being processed daily, while a backlog of fresh peas waited to be frozen.

“When the peas are harvested, they should be blanched and frozen within three hours,” says Jan-Inge Nyström, production manager at Foodhills AB. “We would produce for 12 to 14 hours, and then we needed to stop to clean and defrost the freezer for three hours, and then start again. It was a very interrupted production schedule.”

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Foodhills used that tunnel freezer for four pea growing seasons, then decided to upgrade their production line to handle more capacity, as demand for frozen peas continued to grow in the marketplace. Foodhills desired multiple days of continuous production before shutting down the machine for cleaning. So, the company decided to replace their original tunnel freezer with an FPS Food Process Solutions IQF tunnel freezer, which featured sequential defrost to help Foodhills achieve their continuous production goals.

Foodhills FPS tunnel freezer exteriorFoodhills has increased its production capacity for frozen peas from approximately 9,000 tonnes per season to 15,000 tonnes since installing the FPS IQF tunnel freezer.Foodhills

The new freezer significantly enhanced Foodhills’ processing capabilities, allowing the company to plan for three-day production cycles. “Before we had 12 to 14 hours of continuous production, but now we can produce for 72 hours,” explains Nyström. “We have a short stop after 36 hours for cleaning and defrosting which takes around two hours. Otherwise, it has fulfilled our capacity goals with continuous production—that has been good with this freezer.” 

Foodhills was previously processing about 130 tonnes of frozen peas daily, with seasonal production between 8,000 and 9,000 tonnes using their first freezer. Since installing the FPS tunnel freezer, those numbers have risen to an average of 200 tonnes daily—peaking at 260 tonnes—and 15,000 tonnes seasonally.  

Nyström says not only has the sequential defrost feature decreased downtime, but the hygienic design of the FPS tunnel freezer allows for clean-in-place, reducing the manual labor required for maintenance, and allowing staff to focus on other critical tasks in the plant. This also contributes to a safer working environment by minimizing the need for employees to handle potentially hazardous cleaning chemicals.

The FPS freezer also excels at maintaining stable and consistent freezing temperatures, reducing the need for frequent defrosting, according to Nyström, which helps lower energy consumption and has a positive impact on Foodhills’ sustainability efforts. Because the previous freezer required a full shutdown to defrost, more energy was needed to bring it back to operational temperatures after each defrost.

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The freezer has also facilitated better inventory management. With reliable freezing capabilities, Foodhills can better predict and control their stock levels, reducing the risk of overproduction or shortages. This level of control is crucial for maintaining the balance between supply and demand, ensuring that the company can meet its contractual obligations without incurring unnecessary costs.

Foodhills frozen peas SwedenFoodhills processes frozen peas for domestic customers in Sweden, and for export globally to countries like Germany, China, the U.S., Argentina, Chile, Canada, New Zealand, and Finland.Foodhills

Foodhills employs about 40 people at their plant during peak season, so it was important for staff to learn how to operate and maintain the FPS tunnel freezer, especially when it’s busy. Nyström says FPS technicians were onsite for installation and training, and that the learning curve was, “very fast for the basic features. There are a lot of features [on the machine] so the advanced learning and fine tuning took a little bit longer.”

Looking ahead, Foodhills plans to expand their production line further in the next few years, adding another blanching and freezing line to meet growing demand for frozen peas. The company aims to continue leveraging advanced technology to enhance their operations and maintain its high standards of product quality.

“More production and less cleaning—that was our goal for the new line,” says Nyström. “Now, when we have a good growing season and we have a lot of peas to freeze, we will be able to produce up to 15,000 tonnes, where we couldn’t do that before.”

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