Pierino Frozen Foods, Inc. is said to be one of the first prepared foods processors to harness new cryogenic ‘rolling-wave’ technology to individually quick-freeze (IQF) gourmet pasta out of its 30,000-square-foot, SQF-certified facility in Lincoln Park, Mich. The CRYOLINE CW  IQF freezer, patented by Linde LLC, Murray Hill, N.J., uses a proprietary rolling-wave action to keep IQF products separate as they freeze. 

The rolling wave agitates the moist pasta items on the belt to keep them from sticking and to improve the flow of cryogen around the product. The result is more rapid heat transfer, higher throughput and lower operating costs than with a similar-sized tunnel freezer. The cryogenic freezer, which can use either liquid nitrogen or carbon dioxide (CO2), also avoids the snow buildup associated with other types of cryogenic freezers.

The hygienically-designed CRYOWAVE freezer has already proven successful on IQF protein products. Stuffed pastas, though, are far more fragile than, for example, diced chicken or shrimp. So, the question became, could the new freezer gently handle gourmet pastas with little or no breakage? (A difficult challenge for a traditional flighted freezer.)

Quality has been a priority ever since founder Pierino Guglielmetti and wife, Ida, first started Pierino Frozen Foods in Detroit in the mid-60s. For the past 17 years, the frozen foods processor has been quick freezing fully cooked pastas using a 20-foot Linde cryogenic tunnel freezer

In 2014, Pierino passed the leadership mantle to son, Gianni, who grew up in the business and spent 15 years on the production side. Now Gianni and all six of his siblings (three brothers, three sisters) work in the business.

“Our goal, collectively, is to follow in the tradition my father started and to build a legacy for the future. As president, I am now responsible for ways to improve production. The Linde team helps us with that, and also to maintain our high standards for food safety and quality,” Gianni says.

The wet pasta challenge
Gianni first became interested in the CRYOWAVE freezer after learning of its success for IQF diced poultry. Last year, he asked the Linde food team to evaluate the performance of the existing tunnel freezer vs. the new IQF rolling-wave freezer, beginning with a detailed assessment of the current process.

Because the fully cooked pastas are still moist from the boiler, they would tend to stick together and to the belt as they entered the tunnel freezer. For gourmet pasta, the product appearance is a hallmark of quality, so any pieces locked together, clumped or broken during quick freezing must be scrapped. The existing freezer used steam injection to minimize this and required at least two inspectors upstream on the incoming side to keep pieces apart on the belt.

In contrast, with the new 16.4-foot CRYOWAVE freezer, the adjustable rolling-wave action allows the items to stay in motion as they are gently tossed on the belt. To ensure high product quality and success, a variety of pasta products were pre-tested on the freezer at the Linde food laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio. During commissioning, the Linde food team optimized the process—the belt speed, temperature and wave frequency—to maximize productivity for each pasta recipe and noodle size.

The incoming belt can be layered and quick freeze up to 25-40% more per hour than before depending on the product—on the order of 900 pounds per hour. The new IQF freezer line is so productive that only one worker is needed on the incoming side.

“With Linde, we are now meeting the needs of a new generation who crave the comfort of gourmet Italian cooking, but also demand convenience. As I like to say, ‘if you can’t marry Italian, Pierino Frozen Foods may be the next best thing,’” Gianni says.