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Could your process benefit from pulsed electric field technology?

26 January 2023 | Danny Bayliss, New Technology Lead and Alicja Staskiewicz, Process Technologist

What is PEF?

Pulsed electric field (PEF) processing is a well known non-thermal food preservation technique, but did you know that PEF technology can also be applied to improve food production processes and product quality?

PEF uses high voltage fields to generate pores in cell structures through the interaction of the ions inside and outside of the cell.

This means it can be used to punch holes in cells to improve efficiency, quality and yield in extraction processes, cutting and slicing, freeze-drying, brining, ripening and grain steeping. Its use has shown significant uptake for improving yields in extraction applications and has been widely used in the snacking industry to soften vegetable tissues. It can also be used as a non-thermal food preservation technology by punching holes in microorganism cells to inactivate them.

To apply PEF, the product is immersed in conductive material that is between two electrodes. It is a fast and clean process and is already well-established for some applications in the food industry. It can be applied as a batch process or a continuous flow liquid process and the voltage and field strength are adjusted depending on the purpose of the treatment.

We can support food and drink businesses in exploring PEF applications for their product application and we have a PEF system available on site for testing and trials.

What can we use PEF for?

Here are just some of the many potential benefits to help improve processes or product quality.

Applications and benefits include:

  • Improved preservation by inactivating microorganisms, for continuous flow liquid processes, with the potential to improve product quality and energy efficiency based on the low temperature nature of this technology – read Danny’s blog specifically on this application in more detail.
  • Tissue softening – reduces the cutting force required for food products, such as potatoes, sugar beet and carrots (improved cutting efficiency and reduced blade wear).
  • Frying – reduces oil / fat uptake during frying of vegetable based products as well as decreasing the number of product breakages and reducing the required pre-heat time.
  • Extraction – increased rupturing of plant cells to improve the extraction and yield of juices, proteins, nutrients, vitamins and natural colours (reduced malaxation time in olive oil processing and improved grape extraction for wine).
    • Better access to more cell components – PEF has been used to produce highly nutritive juices, with increased yield and preserved colour and vitamins.
  • Inducing faster growth for fermentation – improves control over yeast fermentation in brewing and bacteria in cheese to improve the process efficiency.
  • Uptake / absorption – improves brining and marinating of meat products (improving diffusion, reducing time and improving the quality of the cooked meat products such as water holding capacity) and reduces steeping time within barley malting.
  • Meat tenderisation - releases enzymes and induces protein breakdown, which can improve tenderisation and maturation of meat.
  • Drying - improves mass transport of liquids for better drying of products and reduces quality loss from freeze drying.

Based on the wide variety of example applications and benefits outlined here, it is expected that many more related applications are possible.

We can support food and drink businesses in exploring both existing and emerging applications of PEF for their product application. We are working in partnership with Food Physics so that we have a PEF system available on site for testing and trials. Get in touch if you would like to know more about this fantastic technology and to see what potential benefits it could bring to your business.

Danny Bayliss

About Danny Bayliss

After finishing his PhD in cold plasma technology Danny joined Campden BRI where he has been in various new technology roles since 2012. Danny's main research interests have been in the field of emerging processing and preservation technologies for the food industry.

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Could PEF benefit your production processes?

If you would like to learn more about how PEF can be applied to your products, or enquire about how we could support you with trial and validation services for PEF then please get in touch.

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To ensure thermal and non-thermal preservation processes are effective, repeatable and consistently produce safe products, our experienced technologists can use a range of methods to undertake third-party thermal process validation work at manufacturers’ sites.

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