Breaking new ground- Innovative food processing technologies
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Breaking new ground- Innovative food processing technologies

Evolution in the food and beverage sector is witnessing a new high of late. Food companies are trying out new products and investing heavily in modern equipment, surveys, and research to understand consumers’ minds and provide them with what they want. The focus on food safety by governments and consumers and rising demands for convenient products are fueling this development. This trend is breeding innovation in food processing technologies. Considering an expanded distribution network and the need for improved food security, it is no wonder that the world is welcoming new food processing technologies with open arms.

Some advanced technologies are being used by manufacturers actively (high-pressure processing and aseptic processing), some are gradually progressing (extrusion), while a few are still being worked on (3D printing). Here we discuss some of the emerging food processing technologies around the world.

Electrical heating

Electrical heating allows the rapid heating of foods and reduces the carbon footprint of the processing site. Some of the electrical heating processes that are applied in the food industry are ohmic heating, microwave, radio frequency, and induction heating.

Electrical heating can be applied in the food industry in various ways, as discussed below.

Pasteurization of guava juice- Induction heating can preserve guava juice by pasteurization. Further studies on this process are needed to explore its effect on microorganisms and food quality.

Sterilization of spices- Microwave heating can sterilize spices while retaining their organoleptic properties. This is possible due to short heating times and low-temperature treatment of spices.

Baking without gluten- According to studies, Ohmic heating can help bake bread without gluten. Results showed that the gluten-free bread baked using ohmic heating had superior characteristics and functional properties over traditionally baked bread. It showed improved qualities of tissue, color, starch gelatinization, size, relative elasticity, stability, and pores.

Though widely useful, electrical heating implementation in the food industry faces challenges like a high initial investment, limited suppliers, the possibility of over and underheating, and the need for employee training on preventive maintenance, repairs, and operation due to the intricacy and skill required.

Extrusion

Extrusion technology mixes ingredients using high temperatures, mechanical energy, and moisture to process the food in seconds. The process is widely used in the food processing industry to develop breakfast cereal, plant-based proteins, pet foods, snacks, pasta, and other textured foods. Its use in processing foods is explored below.

3D food printing is a digitally monitored process that includes depositing food materials in layers one over the other. Extrusion-based 3D printers are used commercially to produce 3D-printed foods in innovative designs, and currently, 3D-printed candies are already being made. Startups the world over are considering this technology for developing cultivated meat. Widespread implementation of 3D printing is facing challenges like equipment and media costs.

Confectionery products- Chewy, gelatinized products like licorice and fruit gums are prepared using extrusion cooking. The product shape can be modified by changing the die and added colors and flavors can develop a large variety of products from the same equipment. 

Plant-based meat/ imitation meat- Extrusion makes mock meats from vegetarian sources like soy and gluten. Hot extrusion produces texturized vegetable proteins that form nuggets, strips, and chunks with a meat-like texture.

Value-added products from food waste- Residues left behind by the processing of foods are utilized by extrusion to make extruded foods. Some of these include tomato peel and seed, carrot pomace, and pineapple waste pulp.

Extrusion technology is a boon for making foods in various designs and shapes. However, scaling up extrusion is not easy. It requires expertise and specialized equipment. Also, in facilities using extrusion, a boiler system is necessary to heat the mixture over 160°F. This consumes electricity significantly.

High-Pressure Carbon Dioxide (HPCD)

Also known as dense phase carbon dioxide (DPCD or DP-CO2), liquid CO2, or supercritical CO2, it is a non-thermal, continuous processing system for liquid foods. It combines pressure (0.1 MPa- 50 MPa) with CO2 to preserve food by microorganism destruction since high-pressure CO2 has bactericidal effects. Its food processing applications are mentioned below.

Making fruit juices appear better- Studies have shown that HPCD-treated fruit juices have more stable cloudiness, viscosity, and overall good quality. Thus, HPCD, as a processing technology, can help increase sales by providing products with a better appearance.

Protecting fruits and vegetables against damage- HPCD can help prevent browning, off-flavor formation, and loss of vitamins in fruits and vegetables since it can deactivate enzymes.

HPCD offers benefits like low investment needs in equipment, large-scale production, and safety for operators. It is cheap and environmentally friendly with no toxicity. However, further studies are required to understand the time, temperature, and pressure requirements to assess the commercial viability of the process.

Isochoric freezing

Isochoric freezing is freezing at a constant volume. The food (sealed or open) is kept in a flexible package and immersed in a solid container with water and frozen. The pressure in the container allows 90% of the water to freeze, leaving 10% of it unfrozen. The food does not freeze and is protected from cellular damage inflicted by direct freezing methods. Its potential applications are vast.

Sterilization and preservation of beverages- Isochoric freezing can significantly extend the shelf life of tea, coffee, and milk by reducing their microbial load. A bonus is the preservation of their sensory, functional, and nutritional qualities. 

Possibilities for foods that deteriorate on freezing- Isochoric freezing preserves food without forming ice. Thus, it is great for the marketability of leafy greens, tomatoes, and berries that deteriorate on freezing and thawing. The method improves the preserved food’s quality and saves energy.

The novel technique shows great promise in high-quality preservation and manufacturing in the coming times. Efforts should focus on designing industrial-level isochoric chambers for large-scale demands while saving costs.

High-voltage atmospheric cold plasma (HVACP)

The process uses ionized air produced by moving between two parallel electric diodes. Gases like ozone, nitric oxide, and atomic oxygen are released, which have biocidal traits along with the electric field. They can destroy microbial products like mycotoxins. Though still at a native stage, its applications may include the following.

Reduction of cross-contamination in meat- Manual meat slicers can be integrated with cold plasma capability to prevent cross-contamination from the circular cutting blade. It is a practical solution for decontamination because of its short treatment time, minimal inputs, no heating, and minimization of water and sanitizer usage.

Destruction of toxic substances in foods- HVACP can be used to treat potatoes, ready-to-eat milled products, hazelnuts, peanuts, meat, and other foods because of its toxin-destroying capability. 

HVACP has not been widely marketed as of now. The process must work on a scale that matters and get FDA approval. Identifying a problem and connecting it with the market in a feasible way will help push the process into the food industry. 

A transforming wind is blowing over the food and beverage processing world that is set to change its face. Manufacturers are excited to try their hands at something new. In the Netherlands, the pulsed electric field process is popular, while in other countries, it is microwave technology. As of now, North America is the only place utilizing high-pressure carbon dioxide technology. As food processing technologies evolve, consumers can expect to be surprised with better, safer, and tastier foods in the coming times!

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