Ice spray delivers cool method for killing pathogens

Campylobacter, a common bacteria found in poultry, presents a significant health issue. With over 246,000 human cases annually, it is the most frequently reported foodborne illness in the EU.

As a result, poultry processors in Europe  have to operate under very strict conditions. This includes chilling birds immediately after slaughter, to reduce any bacteria and ensure that meat is safe for consumption.

“These cooling chambers can be bigger than you might think – sometimes they are the size of football fields,” says ChillBact project coordinator Ester Pálsdóttir from Thor Ice Chilling Solutions in Iceland. “This is a critical part of the production process, but it can also be a bottleneck.” Many commercial factories aim to process between 3000 and
15000 chickens per hour, so every minute matters.

Shooting ice delivers production benefits

Icelandic start-up Thor Ice has pioneered a technological solution to address this production challenge. The company has developed a unit that shoots very cold slurry ice directly onto the poultry, via a patented IceGun. The technology delivers more effective and rapid cooling, reducing harmful bacteria. The modular system includes several components, including the IceGun. The technology has been designed to be easily installed into existing plants. The aim of the EU-funded ChillBact project was to fine-tune this technology, scale it up for use in major commercial plants, and assess its efficiency in reducing cases of campylobacter.

Technology tested in factory air-chilling chamber

To achieve this, two modular systems were installed in one of the largest poultry factories in Europe, Les Volailles de Keranna. The systems were then connected to the factory’s air-chilling chambers, with IceGuns ready to shoot the iced slurry onto the poultry.

“It was critical that the installation didn’t disrupt ongoing operations,” notes Pálsdóttir. “Working in a project like this also helped us to solve many technical challenges associated with such big installations.”

Thor Ice was able to identify energy and water savings, shorter chilling times, increased yield, extended shelf life and other operational efficiencies. Reductions in bacteria such as campylobacter after IceGun treatment were recorded.

“We scaled up the technology, and documented the benefits together with industry and research institutes,” adds Pálsdóttir. “These included the Technical University of Denmark and Matís in Iceland. This really enabled us to show how the system works. The project cooperation with all partners has been excellent.”

Needs of poultry processing plants

The ChillBact project has helped Thor Ice to bring to market a novel chilling solution, scaled up to meet the needs of modern poultry processing plants. “The ultimate aim is for the solution to be adopted by major poultry producers across the industry,” says Pálsdóttir.

There is certainly a significant market here. The EU is one of the world’s largest poultry meat producers, and is a net
exporter of poultry products with annual production of around 13.4 million tonnes. Building on this success, the company is currently involved in the Danish-run SafeChicken project. This initiative is looking at tackling campylobacter across the whole production chain, from farming through to final transport.