Freeze quality is essential when manufacturing well more than a million baked and prepared food items a day for shipment nationwide. Nation Pizza and Foods, Schaumburg, IL, first started high-volume production of topped frozen pizza in 1987. In the late ’90s, the company introduced a “crispy crust” technology that allowed breads to stay crisp in the microwave, which it later applied to microwaveable sandwiches.
Today, this innovator is one of the largest private-label frozen food manufacturers in the U.S., and can bring a nearly endless variety of products to market quickly, from high-end, high-quality pizzas to toasted subs, panini, bruschetta, garlic toast and breakfast items.
To meet new demand for a premium, national brand of frozen pizza, Vince Nasti, vice president of operations, Nation Pizza and Foods, turned to the food team at The Linde Group, Murray Hill, NJ. Three Linde nitrogen spiral freezers apply a quality freeze on a range of high-volume products at Nation’s nearly 200,000-square-foot facility. The team has performed annual audits on the compact cryogenic spiral freezers since they were first installed more than 10 years ago, and has upgraded new proprietary features as they became commercially available.
“A lot of what drives our enhancements is cost and efficiency,” says Nasti. “We’re always looking to increase our production rates and freeze at a lower cost per pound. With the support of Linde’s engineering team and industry expertise, we’ve been able to run these freezers not only more efficiently to get more throughput, but also at a lower cost per pound while maintaining quality.”
To address the need for higher capacity within Nation’s existing facility, Linde focused on the line that primarily processes premium pizzas, ranging from 3-inch to 16-inch pies, from plain to multiple toppings. Frozen specialty crusts are conveyed down the line and topped with refrigerated ingredients before going into the cryogenic spiral freezer and out into packaging.
The Linde spiral freezer operates colder than -100oF. It uses a direct spray of cryogenic nitrogen to ensure toppings are firmly frozen to the pizza prior to final packaging. This is critical, because in the hypercompetitive market for frozen pizza, appearance signals product quality and freshness. Excess sauce should not bleed through cheese; other toppings, from sausage and peppers to pepperoni and onions, must remain in place and frost-free.
After product exits the spiral freezer, Nation can either shrink-wrap or send product for modified atmosphere packaging (MAP). When MAP is required (as with the premium pizza line), the oxygen is flushed from the bags with Linde carbon dioxide and/or nitrogen MAP gases. “MAP extends shelf life and helps give a premium look for both pizzas and sandwiches,” says Nasti.
Linde’s spiral freezers are hygienically designed for high efficiency and operate with a proprietary exhaust system that automatically ramps up or down with production. As part of the annual audit process, Linde engineers ensure that the heat load of the food, cryogen use and exhaust system are all operating in unison. After Linde helped optimize the freezer with Nation Pizza and Food, production on the premium line was ramped up to achieve a substantial increase in volume in the same compact footprint. Further optimization of the exhaust system identified an opportunity to reduce operating costs an estimated $50,000 a year.
“Linde works with us,” Nasti says. “They take measurements. They examine the entire process with an understanding of what we’re looking for, and they come back with a solution.”
For more information about The Linde Group, visit www.linde-worldwide.com. For more information about Nation Pizza & Foods, visit www.nationpizza.com.