12 Jun Looking for the next revolution in care catering
In our ongoing series on innovations in care catering and food safety, SoupedUp was delighted to speak with Nicola Michelon, CEO of UNOX, Italy, about the Evereo Hot Fridge, which combines the concept of slow food and fast service, without compromising taste, texture or food safety.
Q. What was the driving force behind the invention of the Hot Fridge?
A. For those of you who love to cook with chocolate, you may know that when you put chocolate into a normal fridge, after a few days, the chocolate begins to marble, impacting the taste, appearance and flavour of the product. Patisseries know this and developed a special fridge that not only controls temperature, but also the humidity. By doing so, you can preserve the chocolate for months without any marbling effect.
We wondered if we could adapt this concept to improve the preservation of cooked food for longer.
In the beginning, our idea was to create a machine that preserved cooked food to allow restaurants to cook part of their menu on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays to provide relief on the busier days.
This was the start of our collaboration with Parma University. After four years of exhaustive research, we determined that it was not only feasible, but it also made a lot of sense to preserve food this way.
In 2018, the Hot Fridge was launched in Italy, the Czech Republic, Australia and the United Kingdom and we are now in the process of opening up distribution to the rest of the world.
In bringing the Hot Fridge to market, we faced three main challenges: Food safety, texture & taste.
Q. Of course, food safety is paramount, especially in a care setting. How does the Hot Fridge satisfy HACCP standards?
A. We all know that to preserve food, we are used to thinking the best way to do this is to keep the food cold. As soon as we started to tell customers that we could preserve food at a hot temperature, their primary concern was, “Is it safe?”
If you look at HACCP it states that food must pass through the ‘danger zone’ as quickly as possible. Hence, the creation of the blast chiller and why we use combi ovens for food regeneration. But everybody assumed if you have cooked food you must cool the food down as quickly as possible.
But we asked ourselves: “Why can’t we just skip this step and keep the food above 57 degrees Celsius?” And every single test we conducted proved that all bacteria were killed as a result of low temperature, long-time pasteurisation.
We even went as far as to inoculate Escherichia Coli (e-coli) bacteria into the food and put it into the Hot Fridge to see what happens. The tests showed that within 24 hours all the e-coli bacteria were eliminated.
So, you could argue there is an even higher degree of food safety when preserving food in a Hot Fridge, compared to storing food using a conventional fridge.
Q. How does the Hot Fridge deal with changes in the ambient room temperature, for example when food is being taken in and out of the fridge?
A. Clearly, food has temperature inertia. This means the opening and closing of the fridge door does not affect the actual temperature of the food itself. It will affect the temperature around it. The Hot Fridge quickly adjusts for any change in ambient room temperature, returning it to the safe temperature zone of 63-70 degrees Celsius.
Q. How about your second challenge to preserve texture?
A. Temperature is very important for the texture. The temperature control of traditional holding equipment is limited, even at the best of times. Where there is temperature variability, the fibres within food expand and contract, breaking down its texture. The Hot Fridge controls the temperature with a precision of 0.5 degree Celsius from the top shelf to the bottom. By doing so, we satisfied the second challenge of preserving texture.
Q. The third challenge was taste, which is degraded by food’s exposure to oxygen. How does the Hot Fridge overcome this?
A. You can counter the impact of oxidisation using two approaches:
- Storing food in vacuum sealed containers, or
- Using a custom designed tray that could be vacuum sealed. This new tray will allow chefs to prepare food and then create a partial vacuum seal under high temperature using a particular patented technology.
Q. What foods can be effectively stored in the Hot Fridge?
A. As you can imagine, not every single cooked food is suitable to be stored in the Hot Fridge, just as not every single cooked food can be stored in a conventional fridge or in a freezer. As a rule of thumb, the best foods to store in the Hot Fridge are those which are cooked for longer than 20 minutes.
Q. What happens in the event of a power outage? Would food spoil more quickly in the Hot Fridge compared to a conventional cold fridge?
A. If there is a power outage, logically the preserving time would be much longer in a freezer than in the Hot Fridge. But our main focus is to help commercial kitchens avoid having to blast chill foods by having food ready to serve, all day long. And we have identified this is a growing need of hospitals and care facilities that are moving away from fixed breakfast, lunch and dinner time to more of an a la carte-style, where the food is ready to be served on demand, whenever the patient or resident wants it.
Clearly, having a machine that keeps cooked food hot and ready to serve for up to 3-5 days, which can be easily served by people who are not highly skilled professional chefs, addresses this new world of consumer directed care perfectly.
Q. Efficiency of food service delivery is a key advantage, saving on average 10-11 minutes of service time, but are there other advantages?
A. If you look at the food service process, preparing and reheating food can be done correctly or incorrectly and thus, carries its own particular risks. By removing this step, there is a corresponding reduction in risk in food service delivery.
Q. With the increasing prevalence of residents with dysphagia in a care setting, how well does the Hot Fridge hold and preserve texture modified foods?
A. Pretty well, actually. We have conducted extensive tests using the same rule of thumb as regular foods. Texture modified foods retain their flavour, texture and safety levels just as well. The fact that the food has been texture modified does not impact on the service temperature or shelf life.
Q. What has been the take up of the Hot Fridge within the care sector?
A. As it is such a paradigm shift in conventional wisdom around food preservation, there needs to be a greater understanding of how to cook and hold hot. Despite the evidence supporting the food safety, taste and texture advantages, this is probably the biggest challenge the Hot Fridge faces.
The other challenge is that introducing the Hot Fridge will require a rethink of current food service delivery processes and change management to implement a new way of delivering food.
Q. What is the best way to see the Hot Fridge in action?
A. As the needs of facilities can vary significantly, the best way to learn more is to speak with UNOX to understand your food service delivery objectives. For example, some facilities may only need certain components to deliver an on time, a la carte style of production, others may need to completely rethink their processes.
Another consideration is choice and how important it will be to accommodate residents who change their minds, whether it’s by active choice, or simply because they have forgotten what they’ve ordered (which may be the case for residents living with dementia). What the Hot Fridge offers is the flexibility of choice that may not simply be feasible otherwise.
Q. In terms of catering innovation, what are the next big steps forward for the industry?
A. Beyond the Hot Fridge perhaps the next key area of innovation will be looking at ways to reduce food wastage as the industry continues to look for better cost management into the future. The Hot Fridge can help make inroads here too – whatever is not eaten today can be served tomorrow with absolute confidence.
Nicola Michelon is the Chief Executive Officer and Director of Customer Experience at UNOX, Padova Italy. UNOX will be showcasing the Evereo Hot Fridge at Food Services Australia 2019 at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre, 23-25 June 2019.