Europe’s i3-food project reveals innovations set to enhance food production methods

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

The prospect of extending a product’s shelf life, improving food safety and enhancing its taste, took one step closer to fruition in a series of innovations outlined by an industry-academia consortium.

The collaboration, which counts foodmakers DMK and Ërdbar among the collaborators, reveal technology developed in a 3-year project that in time could be applied to industrial food production.

“We have designed a plan to help in a wider implementation of these technologies,”​ said Spain’s Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology (IRTA).

“Although technical advantages have been made in terms of time savings, energy savings, extending of shelf life for ‘ready to use’ products, the implementation of these technologies in industrial food production is still rather limited.”

One of the food processing technologies developed is the Pulsed Electric Field Preservation (PEF-P)​ that uses short electric pulses to assure microbial inactivation in food products, while preserving the fresh characteristics of fruit juices or smoothies.

The High Pressure Thermal Sterilization (HPTS)​ uses high pressure to reduce the thermal impact on products such as ready-to-eat-meals when compared to other thermal sterilisation processes.

Low Shear Extrusion (LS-Extrusion)​ at low temperature based on planetary roller extruder that improves sensory qualities in products like ice cream. 

Adoption a sticking point

The IRTA, a research institute working alongside fellow academic partners (The German Institute of Food Technology (DIL), Wageningen University Research and the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research), acknowledge the challenges facing the adoption of this technology for processes that are long-established and successful.

These include a low acceptance or rejection by consumers to non-open market access or lack of knowledge and information among food producers on how to integrate novel technologies.

“Taking the risk and investing in an improvement of their processing lines is one of the main hurdles for the industry, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) in food processing,”​ the IRTA explained.

“There is neither the time nor the resources available that are needed for the implementation of new non-standard processes.”

Ongoing challenges…and solutions

Up to now, the main application of PEF is for pasteurisation of fruit and vegetable juices, widely used by the 650 or so fruit juice producers operating in Europe, who together create a turnover of roughly €8.9bn per annum.

Although it is capable of extending shelf life from seven to 21 days in the case of orange juice, there are still ongoing challenges for this technology.

These include inadequate standardised process validation and control options as well as unclear guidance on how to comply with the relevant food legislation for PEF treated food products.

The challenges for High-pressure thermal sterilization (HPTS) are very different but no less difficult.

The technology can be applied to ambient stable products with high quality, e.g. ready-to-eat meals, soups and sauces.

The consortium believe a wider introduction of this technology will have an impact not only on the current market for ambient stable food products, but that it can also replace some chilled food products.

“HPTS has the potential to deliver a comparable – if not improved – quality compared to the current heat pasteurisation technologies for e.g. chilled meals, which can be stored at ambient temperature without cooling.”

Meanwhile, extrusion has been a widespread processing technology for food products like pasta, peanuts flips or breakfast cereals for many years.

Within the food processing industry, single and double screw extruders are standard tools that have been used for about 80 years. However, temperature control via active cooling is limited as well as its application for cooled food products such as ice cream.

The project received €2.3m in support by the European Commission under the H2020 Framework Program for Research and Technological Development.

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1 comment

New technologies?

Posted by Luis,

Not so clear what the innovation is: these are not novel technologies, what is the actual outcome of the project?

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