QUEENSLAND export beef processor John Dee recently commissioned the latest plate freezer installation seen in Australian red meat processing, at an all-up cost of around $6.5 million.
As outlined in a story coming up on Beef Central tomorrow, there’s been massive investment made in plate freezing technology across the Australian meat processing industry over the past few years, providing our exports with a strong point of difference in performance in international beef markets.
During a recent plant inspection at the John Dee facility near Warwick in southern Queensland, Beef Central took a look at the plant’s impressive new plate freezing infrastructure, completed only in late January.
So new was the facility that the unmistakable scent of ammonia still hung in the air, as refrigeration engineers tightened brand new joints and seals, and put the finishing touches on the system.
The John Dee plate freezer installation, supporting two stacks, each numbering 14 sets of plates, has capacity to freeze 3800 beef cartons per day. While the temperature in the room itself is around minus-20C, the liquid ammonia-filled plates themselves get down as low as minus-40C. That effectively applies rapid freezing from both the bottom and top-sides of the carton at once.
The new plate freezers will be used in conjunction with existing blast tunnels still retained at the plant, as the need arises.
“The plate freezer adds an element of flexibility to the ratio of chilled to frozen that we can produce through the plant for our own requirements, as well as those for our service kill customers,” John Dee director John Hart explained. Service kill clients at the plant currently include Rangers Valley, AA Co, Stockyard, and as of last month, Hancock Prospecting’s new 2GR Wagyu brand.
“Different markets have different requirements. Chilled is still the majority of what we produce and sell, but for example, a lot more frozen product is going to China,” Mr Hart said.
“If we or our service kill customers get a lot more orders that way, we now have the capacity to quickly and efficiently freeze down that product.”
In the case of the first volumes of beef under Hancock Prospecting’s new 2GR Wagyu brand produced recently, the product was frozen at the Chinese customer’s request, to make it easier to manage under the still-developing cold chain systems in place in the China market. In simple terms, frozen product can often get to the end-user in China more reliably than chilled.
Mr Hart said the new plate freezing systems could freeze-down product in 16-20 hours, depending on the item in the carton – roughly the same time as it takes to chill beef to required core temperatures. This made it much easier to get orders and shipments together from specific runs of cattle, without having to wait for the freezing process to complete.
“Previously, freezing capacity and performance was one of the plant’s limiting factors,” he said.
“And from an energy perspective, the plate freezers use 30pc less energy than conventional blast tunnels, because they do not run big fans. Refrigeration is one of the major costs in running a processing operation.”
The quality of product produced from rapid plate freezing was also better, eliminating problems like dark rings that could occur with slow freezing.
- Come back tomorrow to see a separate story looking into Australian red meat’s recent heavy investment in plate freezing systems.