Processing Fresher, Healthier, Longer-Lasting Foods
Food processing is any method used to convert fresh foods into food products. In large-scale food manufacture. Dr Elena Inguglia describes how some of our foods are currently processed, and how these processes might be improved for food to be processed freshers, healthier and longer-lasting
The Research Field
On the latest episode of The Research Field, Dr Elena Inguglia describes how some of our foods are currently processed, and how these processes might be improved for the consumer.
Novel Food Processing Technologies
Food processing is any method used to convert fresh foods into food products. In large-scale food manufacture, processing involves applying technological principles to preserve foods by slowing down or stopping the natural processes of decay, traditionally associated with the application of heat.
Novel food processing technologies can be divided into technologies that reduce the negative impact of thermal processing by improving heating (microwave, ohmic heating, etc.) and the non-thermal processing technologies (high pressure, pulse electric field, irradiation, etc.) that avoid the increase of temperature during processing.
High Pressure processing
Is an example of a non-thermal technology; in this case the food is subjected to incredibly high pressures – up to 6,000 bar or, that to give an idea corresponds to 4 times the pressure in the deepest ocean trench. These high pressures are able to neutralize food-borne pathogens, like Listeria and E. coli, without the need of preservatives or chemicals, just by applying pressure in all directions uniformly for about one to three minutes.
Technologies for healthier meat products
In Europe around 70% of consumed salt comes from processed foods, among which around 20% is derived from meat products (see page 28-19 of link). Daily salt intakes in Ireland are estimated to be 11g for men and 8.5g for women, against the recommended intake of 5g salt/ day in adults. Dietary sodium has been linked to hypertension in about 20% of the population, consequently increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Processed meats can also contain high levels of animal fat, and high fat consumption has been associated with an increased risk of promoting obesity, diabetes and cancers.
Novel and clean label ingredients
Essentially, clean label means making a product using as few ingredients as possible, and making sure those ingredients are items that consumers recognize and think of as wholesome. This means ingredients that are natural and minimally processed and for example contain no additives, artificial flavour or preservatives.
Novel ingredients and novel processing methods can be either used alone or together to help develop the required product specifications; for processed meats, we are working on the use of novel ingredients such as seaweeds. They have a unique taste profile that might replenish lost flavour in reduced salt and fat processed meat products. Seaweed are also a rich source of minerals, proteinaceous compounds and flavour precursors which can act as flavour enhancers, or even react in the flavour development process.
Some of the novel technologies are already successfully used for industrial applications with a variety of product already available on the market. For some other new processing technologies it is still challenging to respond to the food industry requirements but a lot of research is currently looking to overcome these limitations.
Dr. Elena Inguglia