A food which is fully cooked or portions of a meal, packaged for retail sale is called as Frozen Prepared Food. They are famous among customers as they are easy to cook and variety is available. A traditional frozen prepared meal includes a meat entrée, a starch-based food, a vegetable, like sauce and pasta. It needs a proper attention to be given by food processor.
Preparing Meal Components:
Meat: It is the bigger component included in frozen meal. There are various methods used for processing in order to prepare the meats like marinating, cutting, cooking and slicing.
- Marinating: It is done for proper tenderization of the mean and development of wanted sensory attributes, to marinade it is always better. Ingredients used for marinating are normally vinegar, salt, lemon juice, spices, oil and citric acid. By tendering a meat, developed by marinating contains a proteolytic enzyme, which helps for proteins break down. Normally while marinating, meats are either soaked or injected with marinade by using special machines.
- Cooking: It is required in order to kill pathogens like bacteria which can produce harmful toxins. While cooking, generally, the temperature at the center can rise up to 70 degrees (160 Degrees F) and can be held for 2 minutes.
Immersion fryers are used in types of meats. While frying, cooking and the desired flavors are produced. Hot oil helps the meat surface to sear and helps to lower down the moisture loss while cooking. Breading material coating while frying helps in binding the batter. During the frying process, breading layers absorbs oil while developing its aroma and texture of the food.
Some dedicate food, like fish, are normally pre-fried and breaded in order to bind the breading material. At the time of actual cooking, re-heating of the food is done. But, at the same time, fried chicken is wholly pre-cooked during it frying process. To raise its serving temperature, frozen fried chicken is re-heated.
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There are normal types of fryers like batch or continuous unit. When the continuous unit is used, food is kept on the feed conveyor, and then it gets into the frying tank filled with oil. A Temperature of the oil is usually 340 to 360 degree F. At the same time, another food conveyor is placed on the feed conveyor, to avoid floating of food in the tank. Speed is properly controlled in order that a food should remain in the oil for the desired time. Besides the tank, the fried food is then moved above the oil and the oil at the surface is again taken into a tank.
An Oven can be used to make important entrees in frozen meals. There are types like conduction, convection, and radiation, by which food is heated. Steam is produced during the heating cycle by some oven designs. The food is placed on to a mesh conveyor with the help of various zones and different velocities and steam flow are used to maintain a proper humidity at a proper level.
Batch type oven is normally used to cook under vacuum. Pressure and temperature are reduced to cook meat in vacuum cooking. A vacuum technique called sous-side cooking; food is cooked in its pre-owned juices in order to retain flavors and moisture. As the low temperature is used, it needs more cooking time. Food is placed in a laminated pouch and vacuum is subjected before sealing. The pouch once sealed cooked in boiling water. Once cooking is done, pouches get instantly cold in cold water before freezing.
- Dicing and Slicing:
As compared to raw meats, cooked meats are more sensitive to handle, meat tissues gets loosely connected with one another after cooking. For that reason, they are cooled in low temperatures; as a result, a muscle fiber stiffens which makes cutting and slicing easier operations.
When meats are frozen, their normal temperature is from -18 to -23 degrees as before cutting, they are tempered. The process includes which warms the frozen food just below their freezing temperature, say between -4 to -1degrees C. Industrial scale microwave ovens normally use this method of tempering of frozen food.
Dicing machines are used to cut the meats in cubes or dicing is done. A revolving impeller is attached with a knife blade is used in a common industrial-scale dicer. On every revolution, the slice is made by the blade from the large piece of meat into a machine. A Cross-cut knife is used to cut a meat in square shapes. Once dicing is done, a product then gets out of the machine.
Vegetables in prepared meals are produced directly from a frozen-food processor, and freezing of raw material is done on site. If the frozen food needs to be stored for a longer duration, those are intended for inclusion in prepared foods is frozen. Or the food is directly taken to processing areas by putting them on meal tray. Always try to take fresh vegetables it will help you to cook your food easily, you can keep your food fresh for very long time with best upright freezer.
Size is an important criterion while preparing pasta. It is difficult to control the texture of the spaghetti as it cooks rapidly. While thicker pasta can be cooled after heating in the more controlled way.
Rotary blancher is used to cook pasta which contains a large amount of water. Rotary action contains in a blancher helps to prevent clumping during the cooking process. Once cooking is done, the last step is to washing of the surface starch-off the pasta, to prevent clumping. Stopping of the process is done once the pasta is immersed in cold water.
Sauces and gravies are used to develop sensory attributes to meats and vegetables. It also prevents dehydration of frozen foods due to longer duration of storing. Sauces are normally tomato based or cream based. These sauces are made with spices, thickening agents, emulsifiers, and salt.
- Preparing Ingredients: Mixing blenders are used to mix dry ingredients once they are weighted. The mixture is dependent on the physical characteristics or features of the ingredient or which shortening agents to be added to it. You must mix all the ingredients with liquids as it is mandatory in order to prevent any inconsistencies in the output product.
Tomato sauce normally consists of tomato paste. It has 24 to 36% of tomato solids. They are kept in drums or multiwall flexible bags. Water is used to flush out the paste and in order to dilute the mixture in a sauce. Then the final puree is then blended with other ingredients to produce the sauce.
Stock solutions is a starting point for cream-based sauces, normally produced by boiling raw stock material like beef, fish, poultry into a water. Large kettles are used which are either open to atmosphere or under vacuum for boiling. When boiling is performed under vacuum, the temperature is remained at around 100 degrees C (212 degrees F), which helps in building more flavors in a stock. Addition of herbs, spices, and salt is done while cooking. Once cooking is done, muscle tissue is removed.
- Mixing, Cooking, and Cooling:
To make a well-mixed slurry, dry mixes and liquids are mixed while preparing a sauce. Once the slurry is made, it then kept in a cooking vessel, normally open steam-jacketed kettle. Agitators, scrapers, blenders are also used to fit with the kettles. Movement of the product from the heat transfer surface is done by the agitator located on the central axis, which is actually an action which is done through cooking or cooling of a food material. It may happen sometimes, that the fingers of the agitator may move the product to the second agitator for further blending. To prevent producing any burned material due to heating surface, Scraping and agitating is used.
Sometimes, because of continues heating, it may result in swelling or gelation of thickening agents or flavors may be extracted from the seasoning agents. For that reason, cooking is usually done under vacuum to produce volatile and natural color pigments.
Homogenization of cream sauces is done after heating. They are used to make sure that fat globules will produce small size which is important for stabilizing the final emulsion. High speed should be maintained while scraping in order to prevent it from scorching.
Once cooking is done, sauces are cooled instantly at 4 degrees C (40 degrees F). If sauces do not contain any small particulars then cooling is performed with plate heat exchangers. Indirect contact is done among sauce and cooling medium in plate heating exchanger like chilled water. High energy efficiency is assured to confirm countercurrent flow arrangement between sauce and cooling medium. Once done with cooling, a sauce is transferred into chilled holding tanks.
If sauce contains any additional particulars like raisins, dices mushrooms, or cooked a meat, it is recommended that these particulars should be cooked prior to blending with sauce and those are already cooked and cooled. Pre-cooking is normally considered to prevent any adverse effect of heating on its texture.
Assembly And Freezing:
- Packages: Trays are used created with aluminum foil, plastic, ceramic and paperboard to assemble the meal components. Some particular areas are stamped in trays to place individual meal components. The package can directly be used by the consumer to reheat and then for serving. For boil-in-bag meals, bag is produced with the laminated film. Once the foodstuff is kept in a bag, air evacuation is done and the bag with contents is frozen. A bag can be simply placed in boiling water with its contents to prepare a meal.
- Assembly: For assembling a meal, a sufficient amount of every component must be available. Normally, pasta, meat portions, and vegetables are kept in large trays in the processing areas. Sauces are taken through pumps. Depositing machines are utilized to weigh the products and to place every component directly on to the tray or in a bag.
A Depositor is used to feeding the frozen vegetables via feed chambers. A chamber consists of a multiple cavities to accept the desired amount of food material. Movement of trays on the conveyor belt is sequenced under the depositing machines. The Opening of cavity is done right above the designated tray. Once the component is placed onto a tray, a sauce is deposited for coating the component.
A tray consists of meal is thoroughly inspected to check that every component is placed on it. Machines are used to inspect whether any undesirable item like metal of glass fragment is not present. And after that trays are taken directly towards freezers.
- Freezing: It is done instantly after packaging in order to maintain its quality. After keeping a food in a freezer it is frozen at -40 degrees C (-40 degrees F) in 90 minutes. In the belt freezer, food is normally placed on to a wire mesh belt. The belt takes the food to an air-blast room operated at -40 degrees F. Using a single wired belt is simpler, multitier belts can be used to save floor space. In multitier, a food is moved on multiple belts in the air-blast room.
A Smaller arrangement is done in spiral belts. It maximizes the area for available floor space. Famous spiral belts have self-stacking belts. In this, each tier is placed vertically, which flanges under the tier. Airflow can be configured multiple times. Countercurrent flow vertically allows greater energy efficiencies. An air is placed between the belts to shorten the time required for freezing activity. Dehydration of food is avoided with faster freezing.
For brick-shaped packaged food, plate freezers are normally used. Refrigerants are allowed for circulation inside thinner channel within a plate. The product is placed between plates. Heat can be transferred at higher rates between packaged product and refrigerant plates.
Once the food is frozen, it is then packaged in cartons. Labeling and storing of cartons are done in the frozen warehouse till shipment is done to retail outlets.