Emerging technologies in food and drink production
Danny Bayliss, New Technologies Specialist
Emerging technologies such as high-pressure processing (HPP) are now well established for achieving products with 'fresh' like properties, but with a shelf life of weeks or months rather than days. But more recently, technologies such as HPP and power ultrasound are also being used to change the properties of foods, to give an improved or novel product.
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Emerging technologies cover a broad range of different technologies, from those that are brand new through to those that are in commercial use but not widely established in industry. High pressure processing is an example of a technology that is still called emerging even though it has become much more widely established over recent years. Here, at Camden BRI, we explore a range of different technologies with companies, such as high pressure processing, power ultrasound, cold atmospheric plasma and ultraviolet light technologies.
Emerging technologies can offer a step change compared to thermal processing methods by offering an alternative means for ensuring food product safety, whilst allowing better quality preservation of food products. But the benefits of these technologies are the ability to preserve functionality of certain food components and develop new textures. For some of these emerging technologies it's important to understand the suitability of the particular process for the food product, the type of microorganisms that you want to target, shelf-life you want to achieve, the limitations of the particular technology, as well as some of the other factors such as total cost of ownership. For some of these more established technologies, such as high pressure processing, we have moved away from answering some of these more fundamental scientific questions, there's a shift towards more practical considerations such as - how do you establish the critical factors that control an industrial process? what is the best practice for process monitoring? and how do we maintain industrial processes?
Food companies have a legal obligation to ensure the foods that they produce are safe for human consumption, validation is an important part to help establish this. The main issues around validating emerging technologies is to understand and assess the worst case conditions, factors that can influence this - are the microorganisms inoculated to ensure they have the highest tolerance to the lethal factor responsible for inactivation. Other factors to consider are the food composition itself- the water activity, the salt concentration, the pH and Brix can all influence the lethality of a process. It's important to understand the variability of the lethal factor and be able to monitor this lethal factor for HACCP and due diligence.