Being a part of modern life, refrigeration is something that many of us do not really pay attention to. But for food truck entrepreneurs, not understanding this process and how it affects the quality of food can spell disaster to the business. Here are some challenges that mobile vendors need to understand regarding frozen food products.
Keeping frozen food at a safe temperature is one of the biggest challenges when it come to food trucks. This is dependent on the design of your electrical system. Food truck operators that want to use their refrigerators while in transit can use generators or dedicated battery banks to operate the equipment. But some states do not allow generators to be operated inside trucks while others do, as long as the vehicle is fitted with an exhaust system and have sufficient ventilation.
Mounting the generator outside the truck may be a good solution. Some suggest using the batteries of the truck to keep the refrigerator or freezer powered up but this may only work for small appliances (usually those that only require 12Volts to operate). Commercial-type refrigerators often run on 120Volts. It is best to check local health codes and regulations to make sure if you can install such electrical systems to operate refrigerators or freezers while in transit.
Fortunately, modern refrigeration equipment can keep its contents cold or frozen even if it is turned off, as long as the food to be transported has been pre-cooled to zero degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius) prior to loading. A full freezer can keep its temperature for up to 48 hours (24 hours if half-full). This means you do not have to keep the equipment powered on while traveling from one vending spot to the next.
Another challenge regarding frozen food is the necessity to design and integrate efficient procedures that the staff can easily adhere to. Document protocols that employees will follow in reaction to various situations, including:
- How to maintain consistent temperature of frozen products?
- How to prevent cross-contamination?
- How to label and rotate inventory of frozen food?
- What is the quickest way to serve frozen product?
- What to do when the freezer suddenly fail?
Because frozen food are perishable items, having the right procedures for storing, handling, merchandising, and contingencies will not only preserve the safety and quality of your products but also help prevent added costs or profit loss to your business even in time of emergencies.
Here are some things to remember so you can cope in case the power goes out and your refrigerator or freezer stops operating:
- Make sure your refrigerator or freezer has a thermometer to make sure food are kept at safe temperatures. The safe temperature for refrigerators is 40 degree Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius), while for freezers is zero degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius) or lower.
- When choosing vending spots, know where you can find dry ice or ice blocks on that area in case of emergency.
- When the power goes out, keep the doors of refrigerators and freezers closed as much as possible. Full freezers can hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours for half-full). If the freezer is not full, arrange the contents to form an “igloo” so that food that do not easily thaw can keep others cold longer.
- Separate frozen raw meat by putting them on trays to prevent their juices from dripping to other food when they begin to thaw.
- Discard perishable foods that have been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.44 degrees Celsius) for two hours or more.
- When in doubt to the quality of the food, throw it out.
- For frozen food, check for ice crystals. Food that have been partially thawed can be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or has a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
- Never test the safety of food by tasting it.
Foodsafety.gov provides convenient charts that can help you evaluate whether to save or throw out food in case of power outages.
Chart for refrigerated food: www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/refridg_food.html
Chart for frozen food: www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/frozen_food.html
This can be the trickiest challenge when it comes to frozen food. Different products require different storage temperatures. Knowing the right storage temperature not only affects food safety but also food quality. Heat shock, temperature fluctuations due to the process of freezing, thawing then refreezing, can cause the development of ice crystals (most noticeably in ice cream) that can affect texture, consistency, and even taste of products. Another example is delicate leafy greens that are susceptible to freezing or wilting when not stored at the right temperature.
But the science of frozen or refrigerated food is not limited to storing. Knowing how to properly thaw or defrost food for preparation is vital to avoid negatively impacting the way they get cooked. Moisture build-up on the surface of certain foods (like french fries or breaded chicken) due to temperature fluctuations can lead to uneven browning, flaky texture, or drying out, which can turn off customers. Improperly stored or thawed food can also impact the usable life of frying oil and increase your operating costs.
Refrigeration and frozen food are blessings to mobile food vendors due to the convenience they provide. Inventory with long shelf life, a wide variety of available products, and the ability to create various dishes anywhere free food truck businesses from limitations. Ideally, nothing can compare to the taste and nutritional value of fresh ingredients but frozen food can also have its advantages. And with adequate planning, good research, and proper implementation mobile food entrepreneurs can break the ice, get pass the challenges, and succeed with frozen food products.