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November 2000 (Updated March 2002)
By Beth Lorenzini

SPECIAL REPORT: The Hot Sheet On Reach-In Blast Chillers
Sure, food safety’s the best-known reason to blast chill. But savings in labor and food costs, plus better food quality, are big-time benefits, too.

Something big is going down in the blast chiller business. When we first covered these high-speed uberchillers back in February 1997 (undercounter versions that time), maybe three dozen makers around the world were producing a blaster of one size or another. Not a huge group, really. Now, less than four years later, it’s a decidedly more crowded market. E-stroll over to www.fermag.com, for example, and you’ll find a whopping 62 blast-chill sources worldwide gracing the electronic Buyers Guide section there—including 23 that appear when you click on “U.S.A.” sourcing.

Narrow the field again—say, 90- to 120-lb. capacity reach-in blasters for this story—and we find fully 9 makers have anted up with models that fit the criteria (see note below).

Seven of the biggest players, in terms of market share only, appear here in the main feature. They are Alto-Shaam, Cres Cor, Hobart Corp., Randell Mfg., Servolift Eastern, Traulsen & Co. and Victory. Five more makers appeared in a sidebar when this article first ran; now they appear in a more detailed sidebar on page 31. They are Cleveland Range/Enodis, Delfield Co./Enodis, Elliott-Williams Co., Giles Foodservice Equipment and Henny Penny Corp.

Why such a cornucopia of suppliers now, compared to a few years back? Demand. The buzz that first began on the noncommercial side of foodservice is spreading. And this particular size category, which has sold like party platters in supermarket delis as well as in small hospitals, schools and small hotels, now is showing up in commercial chains. In fact, almost every manufacturer we’ve spoken with has said chain inquiries are coming in fast.

Ask most users why they bought a blast chiller, and the leading answer is food safety. According to FDA recommendations, you’ve got two hours to get your hot food down to 70°F and an additional four hours to get it to 40°F to adequately stall microbial action. To do that, blast chilling is your only realistic choice.

Ice baths work when they’re done right, but they’re a royal pain in the neck and hugely labor intensive. Ice paddles are nifty—but again, someone’s got to stand there and stir, and you’re really only talking soup, sauce and stock applications.

And forget about using the walk-in or freezer to chill down foods. We know it happens, and we’re afraid to ask for a show of hands. But it’s horribly risky business. Done incorrectly, it takes about 12 to 18 hours or more and compromises temps of adjacent stored foods—a class-A dangerous idea.

The Hard—But True—Sell
On the other hand, a blast chiller—from any of these makers—will chill your product down to under 40°F in two to two and a half hours or so even in a worst-case scenario; in a best case it’s 90 minutes.

And the chill process is automatic. You won’t need employees to physically monitor temps. The system will warn you if the chill-down is interrupted for any reason, and, depending on the model, it’ll give you a temperature log printout for your records.

Other pluses: The same reduction in microbial activity that improves food safety also improves shelf life. Blast chilled foods have a solid five-day shelf life, compared to the two to three days walk-ins afford you.

The extended shelf life means your higher-priced cooks can produce seven days’ worth of foods in three or four days, and you get a consistent product because the master is cooking it.

As for food quality: Leftovers are truly usable. Remember that in any slower chilling method, cell damage occurs. That’s why all the juices from your roasts are sitting in the pan rather than staying in the roast. In blast chilling, cell damage doesn’t have the chance to occur so quickly. Leftover foods are seriously as good as the day you made them.

Blast chilling stops the cooking process immediately. Cooks can par cook items ahead of time and finish them off during the rush in a fraction of the time it would take to cook them from scratch.

With blast chilling, there are no more long waits for items—like chicken for your Caesars—to get cold, which means you get a big boost in production and shorter shifts.

Which is not to say these bennies accrue cheaply. A 100-lb. capacity unit is going to run you anywhere between $14,000 and $18,000, street level, and that can be a tough line item to add to already tight equipment budgets. Tight footprints, too, can make it a challenge to find a spot for these units in the kitchen layout. And if you’re going to take advantage of the high-volume batch chilling these units give you, you better make sure you’ve got the walk-in space to hold that chilled food. Still, the payoff—and the pay back—is clearly there for a lot of applications.

A Blow By Blow By Make
That said, on to the units. First up, Alto-Shaam’s QC-40 lays claim to the largest capacity at 120 lbs. of product per cycle in a unit that’s a little smaller than many of the competitors. The chiller features three fans to blow air and three probes for multiple product loads. Alto-Shaam is one of just two makers equipping its units with a dual-compressor setup. One larger one runs the blast chilling function while a smaller one kicks in to cycle on and off during the hold mode. Both companies reason that the small backup compressor saves wear and tear on its bigger sibling. Other handy features: an optional Spanish-language control board and an optional pan rack trolley that matches the company’s combination oven.

The CCBC-12-UA-100 from Cres Cor markets ease of use as a key selling point. With a control panel that’s literally marked 1-2-3, the company says any $6-an-hour employee can easily run the unit. With three probes, multiple product chilling is not a problem, and the unit actually displays all three temperatures simultaneously on the front control panel—so there’s no need to scroll through LED displays. This enables employees to easily monitor and remove items as they reach temperature and cuts down on the possibility of leaving the quickest chilled item in too long. An onboard printer is standard and universal pan slides are another plus. Four fans move the air in the unit.

Hobart’s 100-pounder, the HQC90, has an airflow design that’s different from others. The unit features two fans located on the right side of the back panel and an air outtake on the left side of the back panel. The reason for the design? To create what the company calls a whirlwind or tornado air circulation pattern. Like most of the competitors, the HQC90 comes with three probes and an onboard printer standard. The HQC90 takes 12” x 20” hotel pans but accommodates 18” x 26” pans with an optional shelf kit.

Randell’s BC-10 has several claims to fame. The biggest is the design of the airflow from two fans, which draw air out of the chamber first and then recirculate it, chilled, through a perforated stainless steel plenum. The company says the plenum efficiently directs the air completely around each and every pan, side, bottom and top. Referring to the pattern as a “kinder, gentler” air flow, Randell says you’re less likely to see freezing on the edge of product. Company marketing folks say the airflow is what enables Randell, unlike any other manufacturer, to recommend covering food with stainless steel covers, which it says protects foods from the effects of the blast chilled air. Most makers suggest placing plastic wrap or foil in contact with the food, or forgoing covers altogether. Pan slides, in the form of two racks per side, are universal.

With the Servolift Eastern HCM 141-50 you get hard and soft chill modes (also available on the Cres Cor, Hobart, Traulsen and Victory) but you also get a freeze mode.

A quick explanation: Hard chill generates air temperatures around -4°F to -14°F, depending on the make, that gradually get warmer as the product temperature drops. In soft chill, the air temperature never goes into the negatives, but instead chills in the 28°F to 32°F range so that more delicate or less dense items, from pastries to vegetables, are chilled more gently. In flash freeze or shock freeze mode, air temps reach -40°F; to get product to 0°F.

Back to Servolift: Two large fans centered in the back of the unit draw heat out first and recirculate cold air at a velocity that’s higher than many of the competitors. Servolift is the only supplier of the big seven to recommend no covers during chilling because its unit’s indirect airflow does not damage food product. A standard UV light sanitizer is unique to Servolift, too. After a wipe down of the interior, the light eliminates the need for sanitizing solution. An onboard printer and wire shelves come standard, and the shelves can be configured to accommodate 18” x 26” pans.

Traulsen’s RBC 100 is the only other unit of the seven to feature a freeze mode in addition to hard and soft chills. The unit achieves very efficient chilling times, Traulsen says, thanks to a fan and airflow assembly unique among the competitors. While most other makes feature anywhere from two to four axial fans (axials look like desk fans), Traulsen’s two fans are scroll styles (many-bladed, cylinder shape) that are located in the bottom right hand corner of the unit. Air is drawn from the cabinet, directed over the cooling coil and blown back in through slotted plenums. For those of you keen on record keeping, Traulsen’s is the only unit to allow employees to enter an employee identification code when running a program. Three probes, universal pan slides and onboard printer are standard.

Victory’s VBC-100, like the Cres Cor, features a simple 1-2-3 operation and LED displays for each of three probes. Four fans, located on the left side and fronted with a screen, blow air left to right. The onboard printer, like the Traulsen and Cres Cor, uses adding machine paper instead of the thermal paper used in some models. Why? Adding machine paper, say users, is less likely to smudge in the kitchen environment. Universal slides and onboard printer are standard.

Bottom line, every one of these blast chillers is going chill your food down to 40°F well within the time limit recommended. But there are feature and function differences worth weighing depending on the needs of your operation.

Other Considerations
First up, a lot of these chillers are imported from Europe. On one hand, this is a good thing, as Europe has been blast chilling for 25 years or so and has gained a lot of expertise in the field. The only caveat to foreign-born units is parts availability. Does the stateside importer have a full inventory on hand? If not, how long will it take and what will it cost to get parts sent from abroad? Check it out.

Next, consider capacity. These units do 100 lbs. in about two to two and half hours, so we’re talking about 300 to 400 lbs. in an eight-hour shift. Is that enough or too little?

How many probes do you need? Most of these units come standard with three, which can be a nice feature for a couple of reasons. One, if you’re chilling multiple products that chill at different rates (moisture content, thickness, initial heat going in all play a part in the chill time), you can tell when each different product is at temp and pull it out. Also, on those units with printers, you’ll have records of the chill time of each product. Finally, should a probe fail, you have backups.

Several of these makers get you standard onboard printers, too. Others, who believe the grease and humidity of the kitchen is not friendly to printers, feature optional ports to plug in portable printers. Either way, you want printed proof of the time/temp curve.

Any Way The Wind Blows, Or Draws
Airflow theory is a hot topic in this category. You’ll find a variety of airflow configurations in these units. Of the seven models featured here, only the Randell, Servolift and Traulsen units initially pull or draw air across the product; all the others blow cold air across the product.

Draw proponents say it’s more efficient to pull heat away from the product first, and that drawing is gentler and less drying on the product. Those makers whose units blow air claim that in such a contained space, it’s six of one, half a dozen of another.

What’s important is that the air moves throughout the cabinet, in and out and around those pans at a high enough velocity, to bring the product down within the guideline spec.

Chill functions are another consideration. If you’re planning to chill a wide variety of foods, the soft and hard chill modes make sense. If you’re going to use the unit for a limited and specific dense product application, like sauces or chili, for example, hard chill is all you need.

Servolift and Traulsen, as we mentioned, also feature a freeze mode, an excellent option if you’re producing volume baked goods, including filled pastries, cakes, breads and the like, or if you have a huge catering business. Frozen items hold for a month, according to the company chefs we talked with, and the items are as fresh tasting as the day they were made.

Had Enough?
There’s more you can find out about these units, and any of the companies we’ve featured will be happy to share. But we hope you’ve got the basics you need should you decide to go for the blast.

And don’t forget to turn the page for info on five more chiller models from Cleveland Range/Enodis, Delfield Co./Enodis, Elliott-Williams Co., Giles Foodservice Equipment and Henny Penny Corp.

Editor’s Update:
When this story first went to press, several suppliers had blast chillers on the drawing board or were preparing to import them. Since then, five companies—Cleveland Range/Enodis, Delfield Co./Enodis, Elliott-Williams, Giles Foodservice Equipment and Henny Penny Corp.—have introduced 100-lb. blast chillers to the market.

Due to space constraints, we are unable to rewrite this entire story with the five new companies added. But if you turn to page 31 of this story, you’ll see photos of the five additional models, as well as brief descriptions of their capabilities.—Ed


The companies listed below all have quick-chilling equipment in varying configurations.
Alto-Shaam Inc.
Bally Refrigerated Boxes
Cleveland Range/Enodis
Cres Cor
Delfield Co./Enodis
Elliott Williams Co.
Giles Foodservice Equipment
Henny Penny Corp.
Hobart Corp.
Kolpak Walk-Ins/Manitowoc
Lang Mfg. Co.
Omnitemp Refrigeration
Nor-Lake Inc.
Randell Mfg.
Servolift Eastern
Thermodyne Foodservice Products|
Traulsen & Co.
Useco
Victory Refrigeration/Aga Foodservice Equipment

 

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