To the outsider, making food products that are suitable for commercial sale may appear to be relatively straightforward. As you will be well aware, it isn’t. As part of our member-funded programme of research, we investigate a variety of formulation and manufacturing issues that can lead to improved product quality and safety. On the front page you can read about how food structure can be manipulated to try and lower obesity rates. Three more of our current projects are briefly outlined below.
Superchilling for enhanced shelf life
The term ‘superchill’ is used to define the temperature at which a product starts to freeze, generally around –2°C. At this temperature, some of the product is ice and some contains liquid water. This dramatically reduces the rate of appearance of microbiological and chemical spoilage defects, and allows a long shelf life to be achieved compared to the conventionally chilled product. No specialist chilling equipment is needed to achieve good quality superchilled product. We are currently testing a range of products to monitor their response to superchilling, and answer the question: How long can you keep product at superchill whilst retaining an acceptable chilled shelf life after tempering? Our rule of thumb is: if the product can be stored frozen, then it can be superchilled.
See a video interview with project manager Greg Jones here.
Quality validation for heat processed foods
Better preservation of the nutritional and sensory properties of foods during heat processing is very important for quality and consumer acceptance of the products. It can also have beneficial effects for food product development. This project is systematically studying process validation and optimisation to reduce cost and energy consumption, improve product quality and ensure safety. It is particularly focusing on how the effects on safety of variations in product size and processing variables have to be taken into account when looking to modify a process to improve quality parameters.
Online technologies for food process control
There is an ever-increasing need to transfer measurement and sensing technology from the laboratory into food manufacturing facilities (at- or on-line). A major driver is the need for rapid, sensitive measurements to enable quick reaction to changes in product quality or process conditions. This project is looking at a range of techniques that might be applicable, including microwave technology and electrical tomography. In the latter, an array of electrodes is used to detect variations in electrical properties within a vessel, to measure the distribution of product.
This is described in detail in R&D report 400 on the project web page. The Food Radar system (a microwave technology for online detection of foreign bodies) will also be reported on this page.