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Industrial gases play a critical role in the cold chain

Dry ice has proven highly effective in the cold chain, yet other forms of carbon dioxide, including liquid and gas, also offer viable applications within this domain. 

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) has numerous applications across the food and beverage industry, owing to its versatility in all three states: solid, gas, and liquid. 

And when it comes to the cold chain, the flexible nature of CO2 makes it an ideal application for storage and transportation.

The flexible nature of CO2 also makes it an ideal application for storage and transportation. Image: dizfoto1973 / stock.adobe.com

Supagas, a supplier of LPG, industrial, medical, specialty and hospitality gases, supplies CO2 specific to the food and beverage industry for various uses.

David Petroff, Supagas’ National Industrial Bulk manager, expressed the use of CO2 as a cooling tool, whether as dry ice or otherwise, was already successfully used within the food and beverage sector, particular in terms of food preservation.

The utilisation of CO2 and dry ice in cold chain supply and storage aims to prolong shelf life, thereby increasing the likelihood of product sale before spoilage occurs 

This strategy helps mitigate the risks of recall and reduces the threat of food waste, ultimately safeguarding both the brand and the supermarket. 

Food waste represents a pivotal concern within the food and beverage industry, both locally and globally, given its substantial economic toll amounting to billions of dollars annually. 

Hence, establishing a robust cold chain emerges as a crucial element in mitigating these losses. 

“For example, , some of the cold chain uses of dry ice include meat processing manufacturers who take big meat carcasses and bone them,” said Petroff.

“When they move on to somewhere else that uses this meat, they cut the meat up and put it into containers and layer it with meat and snow.

“The CO2 snow comes from an on-site cryogenic liquid tank, that is usually outside the plant build-ing and is piped into the boning rooms with equipment converting liquid CO2 into snow,” Petroff highlighted.

“It’s basically uncompressed dry ice and it provides affordable mobile refrigeration for their meat cuts, so nothing spoils during or waiting for transit.”

This example is also great for highlighting the flexibility CO2 has by being used in all three of its forms, as mentioned above. 

As another example, the use of CO2 in the cold chain is also a factor in huge food chains, such as the meat patties of many burger franchises. The CO2 is used help create uniform meat patties.

It’s a big selling point for food chains to provide consistently uniform product no matter the location, this in turn is aided by the temperature control of the mince, and it becomes easier to
work with.

“The way that happens is they get their meat cuts and then mince and process the meat, using specialised mixing machines to form the meat patties,” said Petroff.

“If mince isn’t cold, then it sticks and is hard to keep it consistent, so we have CO2 on site that clients inject into the machinery to provide temperature control. 

“This injection of CO2 in liquid form turns into dry ice snow when it is applied and cools down the mince. So, when the patties are formed the coldness helps them manipulate the size and shape of the minced meat.”

Once this step on the manufacturing process is complete, the patties need to be prepared and packaged for cold chain transport.

“Then they are loaded immediately into sealed cartons before they are stacked in cold rooms,” said Petroff.

“Then the refrigerated semi-trailer takes them to where they are going.”

The burgeoning expansion of the ready meals market underscores how CO2 and Nitrogen aids in fortifying the cold chain from farm to fork, especially because a critical aspect in Australia where soaring temperatures can reach extreme levels..

Despite the variety of ready meal products, such as pasta, fish, and beef, all still require the same level of care. This is to ensure it makes it to the point of sale in perfect condition, ready for the customer, and with extended shelf life. 

“All of them rely on being kept in a state of preservation so that nothing spoils,” said Petroff.

“When you go to the supermarket freezer you expect to pull out a ready meal in perfect condition. To provide the product in that state, it must be looked after from the time it is made to the time of distribution.

“Once you start the food production process on a cold chain, you can’t stop, you have to see it all the way through to the end.”

When a customer employs the use of CO2 from Supagas, a tank is installed on the premises and filled with CO2, which is then refilled whenever needed.

Another instance of Supagas applications across the food and beverage sector is evident in the wine industry, where gases play a pivotal role in every stage of the process, spanning from harvesting to crushing
and fermentation.

In being able to convert CO2 into dry ice snow, as well as the applications used as noted above, is possibly the most striking example of the flexibility of CO2 as a compound.

“One of the main benefits of dry ice, when used to apply as a cold agent, is that it is not being turned into water – it is turning into a gas, so it leaves no waste behind,” said Petroff.

Supagas’ dry ice is used with some big brands, popular for pre-packaged meal services.

“The use of Supagas dry ice and the main reason customers do use it, is because the dry ice gives superior longevity and cooling capacity compared to frozen gel packs. And nothing comes back,” expressed Petroff.

“However, in a box with frozen gel packs, the problem is the gel packs are still there when they’ve melted. So, it’s not quite as nice in terms of the environment.”

Dry ice undergoes sublimation, transitioning directly from a solid to a gas state upon deterioration, showcasing just one aspect of its unique properties. 

Additionally, it boasts approximately twice the refrigeration capacity of conventional water-ice and offers a “one-way ability,” leaving behind no residual mess. 

Businesses also employ dry ice for swiftly cooling food and preserving the integrity of the cold chain, notably in retail freezer tray meals that require heating before consumption.

“Meals are rapidly cooled using dry ice; which then goes into refrigeration. This locks in the flavour and the goodness of the food by making it frozen really fast,” Petroff said.

CO2 has proven to be a versatile application in the use of food production and cold chain supply, and Petroff hopes to see more within the industry.  

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