What is IQF Food?: Your Complete Guide

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What is IQF Food? Your Complete Guide.

Does your restaurant do enough to surprise and delight its customers? Are you looking for new ways to incorporate local food into your menu, even during the off-season?

More than 99% of American shoppers have purchased individually quick-frozen food, or IQF food, in the past year.

What many chefs don’t realize is that IQF food can be an affordable and nutritious add-in for restaurants of any size.

In this article, we’ll give you an overview of IQF food and help you find a reputable local distributor.


What is IQF?

Closeup of frozen asparagus bean pods and cherry tomatoes with strawberries: frozen food concept.

Individual quick freezing is a way to preserve food at its freshest. It’s also referred to as “flash freezing,” and has been widely used since the 1920s.

Everything from vegetables to grains to meats can be flash-frozen, a process that involves taking the food down past 25 degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of minutes.

The great thing about individually quick frozen food is that it generates smaller ice crystals than a slow freeze, preserving food more effectively.

Large ice crystals damage cells and fibers, causing a mushy texture when food is thawed.


How Does Individual Quick Freezing Work?

IQF makes use of a blast chiller or a machine with a ridged conveyor belt to allow individually frozen products to pass through a tunnel without sticking to each other. Unlike cold storage freezing, which creates larger ice crystals that can clump food together and damage cell walls, an IQF freezer treats each item—whether a single pea, shrimp, blueberry, and more—as a single entity.

Typically, fresh food items are sorted and placed at the entrance of the tunnel. The freezing method differs based on the IQF technology employed in the machine. Options include:

  • Liquid Nitrogen—water turns into vapor at extremely high heat. Likewise, liquid nitrogen is vaporized until it becomes so cold it can freeze food products.
  • Carbon Dioxide—this gas, in liquid form, is placed inside the machine as a high-pressure liquid. Eventually, it will solidify into dry ice, allowing it to sublimate (or turn into a gas) at a freezing temperature.

The final product is food items crust-frozen individually. This means that only the exteriors of strawberries, poultry, or whatever goes through the IQF freezers, freeze. Their core, on the other hand, retains optimum freshness.


How Does IQF Reduce Ice Crystallization?

This phenomenon occurs when food is placed inside a freezer between 25 and 31 degrees Fahrenheit for a prolonged period. Generally, with traditional cold storage, that can mean leaving the goods stuck at a certain temperature point for multiple hours before they transform into an ample solid block.

As a result, instead of a clean, even freeze, unwanted ice crystals will begin to form. In the worst-case scenario, big ice crystals will appear—and that can compromise the quality of the produce by drying it out.

In contrast, the IQF method stops these crystals from growing and multiplying by quickly freezing the food in the flash-freezing process. It’s so quick that much smaller ice crystals form if any at all.


Advantage and Benefits of Frozen Foods

While there is still a stigma around using frozen foods in a restaurant setting, there are several benefits that cannot be ignored. We’ll take you through several of the most compelling reasons to embrace the potential of frozen foods.


benefits of IQF frozen foods infographicLack of Preservatives

The top reason to use frozen foods is that they don’t need preservatives. The freezing process keeps them as fresh as when they were picked without the need to make them “shelf-stable.”

Fresh fish can be flash-frozen without additives, then shipped inland. Even if your restaurant isn’t near the coast, you can still serve delicious fish dishes.

Meat also benefits from flash-freezing without preservatives. Even grains like rice and quinoa can be hearty IQF foods, cutting down on prep time.

Herbs also freeze well and can be frozen in small amounts, perfect for adding a fresh kick to any meal.


High Nutritional Value

Surprisingly, frozen fruits and vegetables have the same nutritional value as their fresh-picked cousins. They retain their protein, fat, and carbohydrates and do not lose any vitamins or minerals as they thaw.

As long as you use thawed produce within a few hours, you can count on them to mimic fresh produce.

If you plan to incorporate frozen foods into your menu, just make sure that they don’t have any added fat or salt.

You may have to experiment with cooking times and allow for the fact that frozen foods may express a small amount of liquid as they thaw and cook.


Minimize Food Waste

Another compelling reason to incorporate IQF food is that you can cut down on food waste. Frozen food often uses vegetables that are considered a little bit imperfect.

The best thing about using imperfect fruits and vegetables is that you’ll save money. If you’re making a soup, it doesn’t matter what the vegetables look like as long as they taste great.

We can help you get started with fruits, leafy greens, herbs, and custom veggie blends.

Related: Can Buying IQF Foods Help Save the Planet?


Easy to Prepare Year-Round

No matter the size of your restaurant, using locally-sourced frozen foods allows you to elevate your customers’ experience.

While you may not be able to get fresh peas in December, for example, you could use frozen instead. Fish is another food that customers expect year-round, even if it’s the off-season.

It’s easy to include frozen foods in your menu, especially when you have help with warehousing and delivery. We can also hold your ingredients for you, allowing you to control when you pick them up.


Should Farm-to-Table Restaurants Use IQF Food?

If you’re committed to including farm-fresh foods on your menu, you should definitely consider using IQF foods.

More than half of all restaurant patrons report that they want locally-sourced food. Buying fresh food from local farmers helps keep them in business.

Most importantly, buying IQF food helps local farmers use their surplus. They may have more than they can sell at farmer’s markets.

Another benefit of partnering with local farms is to get the word out about their CSAs, a seasonal vegetable delivery program.

Committed restaurant owners and chefs can, conceivably, buy enough local produce to get them through the off-season. As long as the quality is good, it’s worth it to invest in local businesses.


Promoting Locally-Farmed Produce

Organic frozen fruits (peaches, apricots) on a wooden boardWhether you’re using fresh or frozen local produce, make sure your customers know that you’ve got a local farm-to-table connection.

When you begin using local produce, you might want to have a special tasting event for your customers. You can make a few special dishes with the new vegetables and herbs, an event which should generate considerable buzz.

You don’t have to go all-local immediately. Take your time and find farms that will work with you to provide the quantity you need.

They may need a growing season or two to start delivering the vegetables you request, so you may need to start a year or two in advance.

Related: 5 Tips for Choosing The Best Frozen Food Distributor for Your Restaurant


FAQs About IQF and IQF Foods

If you’re interested in working with a supplier to employ IQF technology and individually freeze items, this section will help you understand how IQF works and what it does to maintain optimum food quality.


What is IQF packaging?

IQF packaging is a service designed to help businesses like yours meet your food-freezing needs. It’s run by suppliers who own the equipment required to freeze various food items. Once they complete your order, the goods are sent to you in suitable packing, where they are individually frozen as opposed to being clumped together in a single ice block.


What are IQF products?

Any food product can undergo the freezing stage through IQF. However, the most common include popular frozen goods, such as blueberries, strawberries, seafood, peas, carrots, beans, and poultry. Some suppliers only specialize in certain individually quick frozen items, as they require different hygiene standards. But we can connect you with a professional freezer that can cater to multiple categories at the same time.


What is the temperature of IQF?

Most products will only freeze at 25 to 31 Fahrenheit, so this is generally the temperature for IQF freezing. Unlike normal freezing methods, which can reduce the quality of food, this process is extremely fast and efficient. All food is individually frozen so they aren’t clumped in solid blocks when you receive them.


Is quick frozen the same as flash frozen?

These two terms are used interchangeably but generally mean the same thing. The flash freezing method is quick, reducing the freezer queue and allowing suppliers to work with big batches at a time.


Are frozen vegetables as healthy as fresh vegetables?

There is very little nutritional difference between frozen and fresh vegetables. In fact, most of the decrease in nutritional content is due to the storage time as opposed to the freezing process. If the products arrive at the freezer very quickly, they may retain more nutrients than fresh produce from a supermarket, as these vitamins are frozen along with the food itself.


Can restaurants serve frozen food?

There are massive economic benefits to serving frozen food, so most conventional restaurants opt for them instead of fresh produce. But this is usually limited to ingredients like veggies, berries, and poultry, which are difficult to keep fresh due to their short shelf lives.


Do frozen vegetables have chemicals?

Frozen vegetables are usually not treated with chemicals before they freeze. Some suppliers may use chemicals during the cleaning process, but if it’s a concern, we can connect you with one that doesn’t.


Do frozen foods have additives or preservatives?

Frozen foods don’t contain any additives or preservatives. This is because microorganisms and harmful bacteria don’t thrive in the ultra-low temperatures required for freezing. In fact, the IQF process itself helps naturally preserve the food as staying in a frozen state will bump up their shelf life.


Are frozen vegetables processed?

Freezing is a common food processing procedure, so frozen vegetables are essentially processed goods. However, they don’t contain the same additives present in canned meals or candies, so the processing involved is relatively minimal.


Where to Find a Local IQF Food Distributor

The farm-to-table movement is well-established in this country and shows no signs of slowing down. In general, helping small farms thrive will be good for your reputation in the community.

If you’re looking to re-brand or expand, start incorporating IQF food onto your menu. You don’t have to advertise the fact that you’re using frozen items.

In fact, your customers probably won’t notice.

Our plant-based frozen foods are featured on restaurant menus around the country. We adhere to strict quality control and food safety rules and work with restaurants and retail stores to deliver cost-effective solutions.

We can warehouse your inventory to make sure your freezers aren’t getting overcrowded. If you would like to pick up your orders regularly, we have a central warehouse located in Los Angeles.

To get started, just send us a quick email online or give us a call at our headquarters. We’ll get back to you quickly and we can start planning together.

We’re looking forward to working with you!

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