Functional Ice Provides Cool Opportunity for Poultry Industry
By Caleb Hicks
A bone-chilling product created by Auburn University’s Amit Morey brings new opportunities to the poultry industry and beyond.
Functional ice, or “fice” for short, is a conceptual innovation that can easily replace conventional ice for food storage and plays a role in food safety, according to Morey.
“What we wanted to do is add more functionality to regular ice by mixing water with food-grade chemicals and ingredients to create a product that will improve food safety, reduce food spoilage and last much longer,” Morey, an associate professor in the Department of Poultry Science, said. “We’re excited to get this project out of the freezer and into processing facilities to store poultry and many more food products.”
Morey got the idea for fice nearly 24 years ago while visiting local fish markets in his native India and seeing the amount of food that was spoiling from warm temperatures and ice melting too quickly.
Fast forward two decades, and fice is the tip of the iceberg in possibilities for the protein industry.
“We began testing fice in poultry,” Morey said. “What we have seen is, the ice can significantly reduce salmonella and other microbial levels and preserve meat quality during tray-packed storage. The results are less food waste and longer storage times when shipping fresh food products from place to place.”
How does it work? The answer is simple.
“Basically, we select different types of ingredients and food processing agents that can be added to water and then mix it to create functional ice,” Morey said. “We can determine which ingredients and how much is needed based on the desired use for the ice. These include organic acids, which cause the ice to have a much lower freezing temperature than that of regular ice.
“All the ingredients we use are totally safe for people and the food and can be implemented in most large-scale ice machines.”
Morey said fice has a freezing temperature of 23 degrees, 9 degrees colder than conventional ice.
Fice stands to make an impact, not only in the U.S. but globally as well.
Auburn food science Ph.D. student Bet Wu, who is helping research the innovation, said fice can change people’s lives.
“I came to Auburn specifically to study fice and how it can be used for fresh-food-market sellers,” said Wu, who is from Honduras. “Honduras is still a developing country, and I’d like take what I learn here back home with me to help them deter food waste.”
Wu said fice has already gotten attention in her home country.
“A couple of years ago while I was in Honduras, I spoke with local ice makers about producing fice,” she said. “I traveled to a wet market in a very warm climate and offered the fice to two women selling that day. They were impressed with the results of their product staying fresher longer with fice than with regular ice. It’s an easy technology to adopt.”
Although fice is not commercially available yet, Morey hopes to change that.
“I wanted to come up with simple and pragmatic solutions for people,” Morey said. “There is always a need to do science that can actually benefit people and our industry. Fice can be used to replace conventional ice in nearly all food storage situations.
“We’re looking forward to the possibilities of partnering with companies in creating fice for them to help change the food industry.”