No matter how many times my son has chosen his favorite flavor—chocolate-chip cookie dough—at the ice cream shop, it’s never occurred to me how those bits of cookie dough are frozen and readied for the ice cream. But it’s undoubtedly occurred to Gene Steinfeld, whose job it is to make sure that more than 60% of the U.S. market for frozen ready-to-eat cookie dough used in scores of ice cream brands is made correctly.
When Rhino Foods, based in Burlington, Vt., needed to expand production, Steinfeld, director of operations, looked to the cryogenic wave freezer that a European affiliate was using. The technology behind the Messer Wave Freezer makes it a good choice for individually quick frozen (IQF) foods like the small bits of cookie dough that Rhino Foods processes. Its fully adjustable rolling wave gently vibrates the IQF products to keep them separate as they freeze. The motion also improves the flow of liquid nitrogen and nitrogen gas around the product.
The result is a higher heat transfer rate, higher throughput, and lower operating costs than was possible with Rhino Foods’ existing cryogenic spiral freezers. The initial plan was to replace one of those spiral freezers at the Burlington plant to expand production. However, with demand projections pointing higher, Rhino Foods decided to keep those running and use the new Wave Freezer to boost overall production capacity further.
The sweet spot
Product temperature is key to Rhino Foods’ production process, and the cookie dough pellets are frozen within moments of forming. “That’s a critical part of the process because the product has very little moisture,” Steinfeld says. “It is really the fat that holds it together so it can warm up very quickly. That means quick-freezing and keeping the product cold is not only important to us for our production process, but it’s important throughout the supply chain.”
Rhino Foods serves up a wide range of cookie dough pieces—varying in size, form, flavor, and more. Recipes depend on the particular customer and its ice cream; some use all butter, some incorporate margarine or oil, some combine all three. All of these variances can impact processing parameters, so the design and flexibility of the freezer was a huge plus for handling multiple SKUs, Steinfeld notes.
Installed in 2018, the hygienically designed Messer Wave Freezer includes a base unit and two modular sections, which provide the needed dwell time for full freezing at the desired production rate. In addition to the ability to control the intensity of the wave, the freezer system is divided into three zones that can also be independently controlled. Processing parameters are adjusted and stored for each product through a touchscreen panel on the base unit.
Cookie dough is not generally designed as ready-to-eat, as anyone prone to snitch raw dough before the cookies bake might’ve been warned. Though Rhino Foods pasteurizes its ingredients, “we are keenly aware of food safety, and cleanability is super important to us,” Steinfeld says.
The plant shuts down all its cryogenic freezers for cleaning every day and performs multiple tests, pre- and post-processing, to make sure sanitation procedures are effective. This cleaning process is another key advantage of Messer’s Wave Freezer, according to Steinfeld. The spiral freezers that Rhino Foods uses have 120 to 200 ft of belt that needs to be cleaned, compared with about 70 ft of belt in the wave freezer.
“Plus, the entire top of the freezer rises, and that gives us complete accessibility to all internal surfaces and the entire length of belt,” Steinfeld adds. The spiral freezers, by comparison, have three doors, but workers need to get in and reach to spray all the inside surfaces. The spiral freezers also get more ice buildup in the bottom, which must be manually removed.
Rhino Foods has more capacity in the Messer Wave Freezer than expected, but Steinfeld and his team are working with Messer to expand freezer capacity even further as demand builds. “We picked a target that we hope to reach sometime in the next year, and I’m confident that, with Messer’s support, we are going to hit that,” Steinfeld says.