Trend watch: Cook-chill – feeding thousands efficiently
From healthcare and universities to hotels and QSRs, foodservice operators rely on cook-chill methods to extend food’s shelf life and maximize efficiency and consistency, without sacrificing quality and taste. Executing this correctly, however, sets the stage for a delicate dance between saving time and keeping food safety top of mind.
When it comes to saving time, and ultimately money, estimates suggest operators taking on cook-chill operations are able to offer more comprehensive menus and find ways to move food from the back of house to the front much faster.
Cook-chill equipment can be a serious investment, in terms of equipment cost and space. But, when done right, it can provide a serious ROI.
What it is:
The process involves fully cooking, bagging, rapidly chilling and properly storing food for a set number of days – while meeting HACCP guidelines along the way.
1. Cook. Fully cook food to a safe temperature.
2. Pump. Pump or place fully cooked, still hot, food into watertight, sealed reduced-oxygen packaging (ROP) plastic bags.
3. Seal. ROP bags are closed tight with a heat seal or clip closure.
4. Blast chill or water bath. Chill food through the danger zone: from above 135 degrees to below 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. Store and re-heat. Refrigerate or freeze food until re-heating.
Look for a blast chiller that will move your food through the danger zone in less than 90 minutes. Doing so prevents harmful bacteria from taking root in food.
- Extended shelf life. Correctly following cook-chill steps gives refrigerated or frozen food a 30-day shelf life – without sacrificing consistency, freshness, flavor or time.
- Save labor. Produce more with less. Operators report saving 35 percent or more on labor after making the switch to cook-chill, according to the Chef Services Group. Start with a larger quantity; it will only require a chef to produce it once before serving it throughout the rest of the week. Less-experienced kitchen staff members can re-heat portions based on demand.
- Keep everything consistent. Chefs utilizing a cook-chill system in their operation can ensure that food will be consistent. This works great for central kitchens that cook for multiple locations, without sacrificing consistency and quality.
The equipment to make cook-chill easier:
- Bags. Only use bags designed for cook-chill refrigeration or freezer operations. Most ROP bags are able to withstand temperatures from approximately -20 degrees to 210 degrees Fahrenheit. Note what bags are best for general cook-chill, cook-freeze or meat tank bags for slow cooking.
- Combi-ovens. The best combi-ovens are fit with roll-in, roll-out inserts and trolleys with the capacity to transfer combi-oven trays straight to the blast chiller.
- Kettles. Find a kettle designed to cook large quantities of food – and check that it comes with an easy-to-use temperature control in order to ensure your food is cooked to the correct pasteurization temperature.
- Tumble chillers. Tumble chillers work best for large, bagged food products. Save energy with 300-gallon batch chilling tanks that circulate the product in cold water.
- Hot water baths. Use hot water baths to slowly cook large, vacuumed-sealed bags or whole meat pieces with circulating hot water.
- Pumps. The right pump will transfer cooked foods from the kettle straight to the bag – without sacrificing sanitation.
- All-in-one tanks. Pre-bagged food is cooked with warm water – then chilled with cold water in a single, all-in-one unit.