Table of Contents

Why choose an air blast freezer?
Types of air blast freezer
Air circulation
Air temperature
Freezing time
Freezer capacity
What happens when the freezer is incorrectly loaded?
Design and spacing of freezer trays
The effect of wrapping the product
Defrosting blast freezers
Choice of condenser
Buyer’s specification
Contractor’s specification


Air blast freezers are not readily available off the shelf as packaged units. They usually have to be tailor-made to suit individual requirements. This note is intended to help the potential buyer to specify exactly what he wants, and suggests what information the suppliers should then give to enable the buyer to make the right choice from what is offered.

The note first describes good design and operation of air blast freezers; this information will be useful both before the freezer is specified and after it has been installed. The note then lists in detail the information that the buyer and the supplier should provide to make the freezer exactly what is wanted. No attempt is made to dictate what constructional materials or refrigeration plant should be used to meet the specification, but the contractor would be expected to describe these items in his estimate for the job.

Why choose an air blast freezer?

The two most common types of freezer in use in the fish industry are the plate freezer and the air blast freezer. The plate freezer usually takes up less space and requires less power than a blast freezer with the same output, but its use is normally confined to freezing packs of uniform thickness with smooth flat surfaces.

The big advantage of the blast freezer is its versatility; it can cope with a variety of irregularly shaped products. Wherever there is a wide range of shapes and sizes to be frozen, the blast freezer is the better choice. However, because of the versatility of the blast freezer, it is often difficult for the potential user to specify precisely what work he expects it to do and, once it is installed, it is all to easy to use it inefficiently.

Types of air blast freezer

There are considerable numbers of designs and arrangements of air blast freezer, but there are two main types. In one, the product moves through the freezer during the process; this is a continuous freezer. In the other the product remains stationary; this is a batch freezer.

In the continuous freezer the product is carried through on trucks or on a conveyor; this method is most suited to mass production of standard packs with similar freezing times. When trucks are used they are normally operated on a semi-batch principle; the trucks remain stationary except when a fresh truck is pushed into one end of the tunnel, thus moving the others along to release a finished one at the other end.

Continuous freezers can be further divided into series-flow and cross-flow types. In a series-flow freezer the air flow is in line with the trucks or conveyor; in a cross-flow freezer the air flow is across the line of movement of the product.

In a series-flow freezer, normally only one fan and one cooler are used, and the product is moved in the opposite direction to the air flow; thus the coldest air meets the coldest, or nearly frozen, product at the exit end. In this type of freezer it is essential to switch off the fan during the short period of loading and unloading so that warm air is not drawn into the freezer. A switch should be located near the input door, or contact switches should be fitted to both doors so that the fan is off when either door is open.

Fig. 1. Typical Freezer Arrangements.

In the cross-flow freezer there are usually several fans and often more than one cooler unit; trucks entering or leaving the freezer interfere very little with the air flow. Where a conveyor is used with permanent flap openings at loading and discharge ends, the cross-flow arrangement is essential. A slight disadvantage of a cross-flow tunnel is that the cooler nearest the entrance has the most work to do and therefore accumulates more frost than the other coolers. To avoid having to defrost it more often than the others, the entrance cooler can be made with more widely spaced fins.

The batch freezer is more flexible and is used when a variety of products is to be frozen, often at the same time, on individual trolleys or pallets.

When the batch freezer is used for mixed loads in this way it requires close supervision to maintain maximum output without overloading.

The choice of type of freezer depends very much on the kinds and quantities of product to be frozen, and on whether single-shift or round-the-clock operation is contemplated. The precise style and layout of the freezer will often depend on the space available and on its location in relation to other steps in the process, such as filleting, packing and cold storage.

The final choice of freezer is therefore an individual one which can be made only when the product, process and location have been examined in detail.

Air circulation

In a well designed and correctly operated air blast freezer, the air speed over the fish should be about the same everywhere in the freezer, thus ensuring uniform freezing of the product. It is very important that the tunnel be designed so that the resistance to the air flow created by the products to be frozen is spread evenly over the whole cross section of the tunnel. The spaces between the trays should all be the same and the gap above, below and at the sides of the truck should be as small as possible; otherwise the air flow will take the path of least resistance and freezing will be inefficient.

Air has a low heat capacity, and still air is a poor conductor of heat so that a fairly high air speed is necessary. However, high air speeds mean powerful fans and these generate heat which has to be removed by the refrigeration machinery. Consequently, there is little to be gained by using a very high air speed, and a speed range of 10 to 20 feet a second has been found to be most suitable for economic freezing. An average design air speed of 1,000 feet a minute, or about 17 feet a second over the product, with good air distribution across the working section, should ensure air speeds within the recommended range over all the fish in the freezer.

Occasionally, however, higher air speeds may be justified if space is limited and a shorter freezing time is necessary in order to comply with a code of practice or to make freezing time fit the working period.

The air as it moves across the fish will rise in temperature, because it is taking heat away from the product. The extent to which the air is allowed to warm will directly influence the size and power of the fans. When the rise in temperature is too great, the fish at the downstream end of the freezer will encounter much warmer air than the fish at the upstream end, and therefore will freeze more slowly. On the other hand, when the design temperature rise is very small, and when the freezer layout and the spacing of the trays is not perfect, unnecessarily powerful fans may be needed to maintain the required air speed.

Fig. 2. Variation of Freezing Time with Air Speed.

Even in a properly designed layout the fan heat load on the refrigeration system will be about 25 to 30 per cent of the load imposed by the product. The fan load therefore can be considerable and, in extreme cases with a poor layout of freezer, it can be as high as the product load itself.

The rise in air temperature that can be tolerated depends very much on the total freezing time. When the freezing time is 20 minutes, a difference of two minutes, that is 10 per cent of the total time, between the coldest and the warmest fish may not be important. On the other hand, when the freezing time is 10 hours, a 10 per cent difference means one hour; such a big difference in freezing time between fish in the same batch may not be acceptable.

No hard and fast rule can be made about permissible rise in temperature of the air during its passage over the fish. As a general guide, however, an average rise of 2-5°F during the freezing period is usually reasonable. With air entering the freezing space at - 30°F, such a rise will give a difference in freezing time between the best and the worst packs in the batch of 3-8 per cent of the total time. In practice, the rise in temperature will be higher at the start of freezing than at the end; the suggested permissible rise given is an average over the whole freezing time.

Fig. 3. Two Diagrammatic Arrangements for Freezing 1 Ton of Fish in Four Pallets.

(a) Tunnel with Large Cross-Section - High Fan Load.
(b) Tunnel with Reduced Cross-Section - Reduced Fan Load.

Air temperature

The air temperature in an air blast freezer should be low enough to freeze the fish as quickly as the code of practice recommends; see Advisory Note 27 for details of what quick freezing means and what is necessary to comply with the code. In addition the air has to be cold enough to reduce the temperature of the frozen fish to that of the cold store; in Britain the accepted temperature for the storage of frozen fish is - 20 °F. Therefore the air in the freezer has to be lower than - 20°F and, in many commercial blast freezers, an air temperature of - 30°F is found to be practicable.

The lower the air temperature, the shorter will be the freezing time, but the cost of removing the heat will be greater. A refrigeration compressor can be compared with a pump taking water from a well; the deeper the well, the greater the cost of taking out a given quantity of water. In the same way, when you lower the operating temperature of a refrigeration system, more power, and therefore more money, is needed to transfer the same amount of heat from the fish, even although it does so more quickly. Therefore, the freezer should not be run at a temperature any lower than is necessary to give the required freezing time and final temperature of the product. Exceptionally it may be necessary to use an air temperature lower than -30°F in order to quick freeze very thick fish for example, or to shorten the freezing time to fit a particular timetable in spite of extra cost.

Freezing time

Freezing time is defined in Advisory Note 27. The freezing time of all the products likely to be handled must be known before a freezer can be specified. The freezing time and the output of the freezer are the two main factors that determine the dimensions of the freezer and the capacity of the coolers and the refrigeration machinery.

There is no simple formula for estimating the freezing time of a given product. Exceptionally it is possible to predict a freezing time for an unwrapped fish product of regular shape, but in practice it is usually necessary either to measure the freezing time by running trials with the product under the desired operating conditions or to refer to known freezing times for similar products. This important piece of information must be known before attempting to design a suitable freezer. Advisory Note 94 describes a method of measuring freezing time.

Freezer capacity

In an air blast freezer, the shape and size of the freezing space, the size of the coolers and the refrigeration machinery have to be matched to handle a given product load, but because the blast freezer is versatile, a range of products can be accommodated, having different shapes and sizes and different freezing times; it is therefore difficult to predict accurately the most suitable design and to avoid misuse of the freezer once it is in operation.

Let us take an example. A blast freezer is designed to freeze two tons an hour of a product that takes four hours to freeze. Therefore the freezer must have room for eight tons of that product at a time to maintain the designed output, and the cooler and refrigeration machinery will be designed to cope with two tons an hour. But, if the same freezer is then loaded with eight tons of a differently shaped product that takes only two hours to freeze, the new freezing rate is four tons an hour and the refrigeration equipment is greatly overloaded. On the other hand, when the freezer is loaded with eight tons of a product that takes eight hours to freeze, the freezing rate is down to one ton an hour and the refrigeration equipment is then running at very much below its design capacity. Table 1 shows these three different cases.

Thus a freezer designed specifically for handling product A can be misused whenever it is fully loaded with products B or C. When a freezer has to handle all three products, it should be made roomy enough to house 16 tons at a time of product C, but not more than eight tons of A or four tons of B must be put in that space at any one time. Then, and only then, would the freezing equipment be operating at its design capacity of two tons an hour for all three products, but with more frequent reloading for the faster freezing products.

Table 1. Loading an air blast freezer


Product weight in freezer

Product freezing time

Freezing rate demanded

Designed freezing rate











Freezer correctly loaded






Freezer overloaded






Freezer underloaded

Given the freezing time of a particular product, and the weight of it to be loaded into the freezer, it is then possible to work out how much heat the refrigeration plant has to remove from it in that time to freeze it quickly to the recommended storage temperature. Table 2 shows the heat to be removed from unprocessed white fish with various initial temperatures.

Table 2. Heat to be removed from fish

Initial temperature °F

Storage temperature °F

Heat to be removed Btu/lb



















There are slight variations in the heat to be removed from various kinds of fish and fish products but the freezer should be designed to cope with the above maximum requirement. In commercial practice, the heat allowance made for fish frozen in an air blast freezer is often taken as 200 Btu/lb but this includes a safety factor allowance for peak loads at the start of freezing, unduly high product temperatures and other inefficiencies in freezer operation. An allowance is always made in calculating the refrigeration load as a safety precaution but whether this is applied to each individual item as in this instance, or to the total load, is a matter for individual interpretation,

In addition to freezing the fish, the refrigeration plant must also cope with heat from other sources, and allowance for these must be made in the design. For example, allowance must be made for heat coming in through the insulation, heat generated by the fans and the lights, and heat introduced by warm air and warm trolleys and trays; all of these are additional to the heat to be taken from the fish itself.

What happens when the freezer is incorrectly loaded?

When a blast freezer is overloaded, the air temperature will rise and the freezing time will be longer; in addition the pressure in the discharge side of the refrigeration compressor is likely to rise fairly quickly. An excessively high discharge pressure should cause a safety device to trip and stop the compressor motor; failing that, the electrical overload device should trip and again stop the motor, a bursting disc should blow, or a pressure relief valve operate but, where these devices are not fitted or are incorrectly set, the high pressure may cause serious damage to the equipment and possibly endanger the staff nearby.

The immediate effect of underloading is less serious than that of overloading, but the cumulative effects may eventually prove costly. First the air temperature will fall and the plant will thus operate at a less economic level than the one it was designed for. Very light loading of the compressor results in extra strain on its bearings due to the absence of the cushioning effect of the compressed gas; the accompanying knocking sound indicates that premature wear and possibly permanent damage to the machinery may result. A low pressure safety device will stop the motor and avoid this risk, but continual stopping and starting will in turn impose unnecessary wear and tear on both motor and starter. Some compressors have a device that compensates for low loads and thus prevents undesirable effects but nevertheless the machinery is still being operated inefficiently and therefore expensively. Two-stage compressors are usually used for air blast freezers operating at -30°F or lower; these are less likely to suffer damage due to low suction pressures when operating with low loads.

Every effort should be made, therefore, to run the blast freezer correctly loaded to give maximum output at least cost.

Design and spacing of freezer trays

Many fish products are packed in trays before they are loaded into an air blast freezer. The trays should transfer heat efficiently, be easily emptied and be robust. Normally they are required to yield a frozen pack that is rectangular or nearly so. It is extremely difficult to remove a truly rectangular pack even from a strongly made tray without damaging either the tray or the pack, but a slight degree of taper on the sides of the tray makes emptying easy; a tray with a taper of one in eight can be readily emptied by turning it upside down, spraying water on it for a few seconds and then tapping its edge gently to release the frozen pack. Inserts can also be used to make a rectangular block in a tapered tray. With many products it is suggested that a tray of the type shown in Fig. 4 be used.

Fig. 4. Tray for use in air blast freezers.

The sides of the tray that lie across the air stream should be lower in height than the product, so that air can flow over the product in close contact with its surface. On the other hand the sides of the tray that lie along the air stream can be higher than the product to give an edge for tapping on during unloading. Aluminium of 14-16 gauge is suitable for the manufacture of blast freezer trays.

Spacing of trays in the freezer is very important; the distance between the upper surface of the product in a tray and the bottom of the tray above it should be about 2/3 of the thickness up to a maximum gap of two inches. In other words trays carrying 3-inch-thick blocks of fillets, for example, would be put on racks at 5-inch intervals to leave an air space of two inches between them. The trays must be distributed uniformly over the whole cross-section of the tunnel so that the resistance to air flow is everywhere the same; thus the truck or pallet with its racking to support the trays must fit neatly into the tunnel, so that there are no excessive gaps anywhere outside the framework.

Fig. 5. Loading an air blast freezer.

Where trolleys or pallets are partly loaded, the load should be evenly distributed across the tunnel to maintain an even air flow. Sometimes it may be necessary to use dummy packs alongside the real ones to prevent the air bypassing the product and thus extending the freezing time.

In some cases pallets are loaded without any shelving or spacers. This practice should be discouraged since to enable the packages to be stacked there has to be a certain amount of overlap with the packages above and below. This overlap increases the effective thickness of the package and consequently prolongs the freezing time. Many stacking arrangements also stop the free passage of air over each individual package in the stack and in these cases the freezing time will be considerably increased.

The effect of wrapping the product

Any kind of wrapping or packaging will lengthen the freezing time of the product; not only does the wrapper itself have some insulating effect but also some air is often trapped between the wrapper and the product. In a blast freezer the layer of still air in the pack is sometimes more resistant to heat flow than the wrapping. The effect of wrapping on the freezing time of a typical blast freezer product, boxed kippers, is shown in Table 3.

Table 3. Effect of wrapping on freezing time of kippers

Packing procedure

Freezing time - hours

Wooden box, paper wrapping, lid on


Wooden box, foil wrapping, lid on


Wooden box, paper wrapper, no lid


Wooden box, foil wrapper, no lid


Wooden box, no wrapper, lid on


Wooden box, no wrapper, no lid


The table shows that the freezing time can be considerably reduced by leaving the lid off the box and allowing the air to blow over the unwrapped contents. The table also shows that whatever the wrapper is made of its effect mainly depends on how well it excludes the moving air from direct contact with the product. The foil wrapper, a good conductor of heat compared with the wooden lid of the box, has nevertheless a greater effect on the freezing time than the lid because it makes a more effective seal. Kippers are usually loosely packed in wood boxes, compared with say wet fish fillets, and air circulation through the pack is a big factor in the removal of heat. Therefore, the difference in freezing time between unwrapped and wrapped kippers with the lid off is probably greater than it would be for most other fish products. Often it is possible to freeze the product in an open metal tray and pack it afterwards; although this means double handling, this technique may be used to give the shortest possible freezing time.

Defrosting blast freezers

Frost always accumulates in air blast freezers, particularly on the upstream side of the cooler and on the structure near to the warmest fish. The frost must be removed at regular intervals; otherwise it impairs the efficiency of the freezer by reducing the transfer of heat from the air to the cooler, thus causing the air to warm up, and by restricting air flow through the tunnel.

Frost is produced from three sources; water in the product evaporates, water vapour comes in with warm air from outside, for example when the doors are open, and moisture can diffuse through cracks and openings in the freezer structure. About 1-2 per cent of the weight of the unwrapped product will evaporate into the air stream during freezing, and the moisture will eventually be deposited as frost on the cooler.

Tunnels should be made so that they can be readily inspected. Loose, powdery frost can be removed from accessible parts by brushing. Commercial freezers are often defrosted simply by shutting off the refrigerant, throwing open the doors and allowing the whole freezer to warm; natural defrosting in this way can be a slow and messy business and the heavy condensation can damage the insulation and the structure of the tunnel. Controlled heating with the freezer doors closed is much better.

The cooler can be defrosted by circulating hot gas through the coils or, where a secondary refrigerant is used, by circulating hot liquid from a reservoir. The coils can be defrosted externally by spraying water, brine or some other suitable liquid over the coils or by electrical heaters in the cooling unit.

Hot gas defrosting is efficient only when the compressor has some refrigeration work to do; therefore wherever a compressor supplies more than one cooler, only one cooler should be defrosted at a time.

In each of the above methods of defrosting the process can be speeded up if refrigerant is emptied from the coils before defrosting begins.

Choice of condenser

Generally the choice of type of condenser is determined by economics, the local climatic conditions and water supply. Where water is expensive either an air cooled condenser or an evaporative type may be considered, or a shell-and-tube condenser may be used in conjunction with an evaporative cooler or cooling pond.

Generally, small condensing units are supplied with air cooled condensers as an integral part of the unit. When ammonia is the refrigerant, only water cooled condensers are used.

If the buyer has experience of refrigeration plant he may be able to specify his choice of condenser but this should generally be left to the supplier who will match the condenser to the compressor, taking into consideration prevailing climatic conditions, cost of water, etc.

Buyer’s specification

The buyer should supply, in writing, all the information he has about the products, the proposed freezer, the site and the facilities available. The more facts the buyer gives, the easier it will be for the contractors to submit competitive tenders that the buyer can compare on a common basis. Ideally the buyer should provide the following information when ordering a blast freezer:

1. The kinds of fish product to be frozen.

2. The shape, size and method of packing of each product.

3. The freezing time of each product.

4. Required daily output for each product in tons or lb.

5. Normal working day in hours.

6. The average air temperature required in the freezing section.

7. The average air speed required in the freezing section.

8. The proposed method of loading the products in the freezer.

9. The type of air blast freezer required, with a sketch plan.

10. The position of the freezer in the factory premises, with a sketch site plan.

11. Availability of electricity and water supplies.

12. The type of refrigeration condenser required, whether water cooled, air cooled or evaporative.

13. Availability of maintenance facilities.

Contractor’s specification

The contractor should provide a written specification and a detailed sketch plan of the proposed freezer layout. Before giving a full list of the information that the contractor should supply it is necessary to emphasize some common errors made in specifying refrigeration capacity that make it difficult for the buyer to interpret and compare rival tenders. Refrigeration capacity is often quoted in terms of motor horsepower; there is such a loose relationship between them that horsepower is only a very rough guide at best. Again, refrigeration capacity is sometimes quoted in terms of Btu/day or quantity of fish frozen per day, without specifying what is meant by a day; is it 24 hours or is it a working day of 8 hours? In order to avoid confusion, capacity should be quoted as an hourly rate in Btu/hour and it should be made clear that this is the gross value available from the compressor for all duties. The net value available for freezing fish also should be given.

Another common error is to ignore the proposed operating temperature when quoting the refrigeration capacity. It is important that compressor capacities should not be quoted at standard rating conditions or any other unrealistic conditions. The contractor should quote refrigeration capacity at the lowest envisaged evaporating temperature for normal freezer operation. The following information should be specified by the contractor:


1. Number and type of compressors.
2. Compressor operating conditions.
3. Total refrigeration capacity.
4. Refrigeration capacity of each compressor in Btu/hour at design conditions.
5. Horsepower of compressor motors.
6. Electrical power requirements.
7. Compressor safety arrangements.
8. Condensers, number and type.
9. Water consumption in gallons a minute.
10. Circulating pumps for condenser.
11. Fan power requirements for condenser.
12. Sketch of machinery layout showing space required.
13. Refrigerant used.
14. Type of system.
15. Initial refrigerant charge in Lb.
16. Horsepower of circulating pumps for refrigerant.
17. Standby arrangements, if any.
18. Method of temperature control, if any.
19. Temperature control limits.
20. Sketch of freezer layout.

21. Weight of load for each product specified.

22. Output in tons/hour or lb/hour for each product specified.

23. Output in tons or lb for normal working day, including allowance for loading and unloading, for each product.

24. Recommended loading procedure.

25. Air temperature in freezing section.

26. Number and capacity of coolers.

27. Number and capacity of fans.

28. Air speed in empty freezer in feet a minute.

29. Air speed over the product in feet a minute.

30. Air temperature rise over the product.

31. Method of defrosting.

32. Instrumentation supplied.

33. Type of insulation.

34. Thickness of insulation in inches.

35. Method of erection of insulation.

36. Type of vapour sealing.

37. External finish.

38. Internal finish.

39. Door arrangement.

40. Door heaters.

41. Frost heave precautions, if any.

42. Lights.

Top of Page