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Cutting-edge methods and products to preserve food are ushering in the next chapter in food preservation


Preserving the freshness of food products will always be important – and new packaging methods and products are giving food companies more options than ever to ensure their wares remain shelf-stable and safe.

“Active and intelligent packaging (AIP) is gaining attention,” explains Carol Zweep, manager of Packaging and Nutrition Labelling services at the Guelph Food Technology Centre in Guelph, Ont. “Active packaging can be used to extend the shelf life or the quality of the food by releasing substances such as antioxidants, aroma, ethanol or other antimicrobial substance, or by absorbing undesirable substances such as oxygen or ethylene. Intelligent packaging gives information about the food to the consumer or retailer, such as freshness or quality of the product.”

Naturally fresh

How ubiquitous these technologies might become depends on several factors, according to Carol Raithatha, director of the U.K.-based Carol Raithatha Limited research consultancy. “Affordability, as well as clear benefits and minimal or low risks for manufacturers and consumers, will be necessary for these technologies to become widespread,” she says.

Plant-based preservation extracts, such as rosemary, increase shelf life while maintaining appearance, taste and quality of food products. Photo: Kemin Industries

Raithatha also thinks acceptance of active packaging technologies depends on how they are presented and marketed – naturalness or perceived naturalness are important factors – and consumers have to feel complete trust in each product’s safety. They’ll continue to attract interest in her view, because any food preservation technique that helps to retain sensory characteristics of “freshness” will always be important. But, she adds, “Bioactive packaging of the future could also have functions other than preservation – for example, packaging with immobilised enzymes that caused food or drink to develop different colours, flavours, or textures could be possible – which might be viewed differently by consumers.”

In March, the European Union-funded AIP Competence Platform was unveiled. Once it’s completely up and running, this initiative will serve as a knowledge-sharing tool for companies, researchers and industry associations. It will include an on-line database of AIP packaging providers and new AIP product launches, among other features.

Keeping food safe

Oklahoma-based Bio-Cide International offers two Keeper Professional acidified antimicrobial products, activated at time of use to produce stabilized chlorine dioxide. “They are FDA and Health Canada approved, economical and kosher, and address the most-concerning food safety pathogens,” says Jeffrey Brusseau, technical support for Food Safety at Wesmar Company, which distributes the products. “For example, after 60 seconds of contact time at 42ppm, this technology provides a 99.999 per cent kill rate of Listeria monocytogenes (LM).”

Keeper Professional Seafood is used in fish and seafood processing waters and ice, but can also be used on high-risk, smoked ready-to-eat seafood. Keeper Professional Post Harvest is used in fruit and vegetable processing waters (flume and wash water). For low-volume applications, Keeper products can be activated manually, or for higher volumes, with BCI’s automated AANE (non-electric) System, Wall-Mount Activation System or their OLAS System, which combines activation with injection into water streams on the fly.

Plant-based solutions

Suitable for many uncooked meat products is Sunsweet’s multifunctional plum extract which provides moisture-binding properties at the same time as it provides antimicrobial and shelf-life extension benefits. “The antioxidants contained in the extract, particularly neo-chlorogenic acid, have been shown to provide significant suppression of bacterial growth,” says Jim Degen, president of J.M. Degen & Co. and a consultant who worked on the extract’s development. “It is usually mixed with water, salt and any seasonings to form a marinade. It is then either injected into whole muscle proteins, or more typically, vacuum tumbled.” In ground products, it’s added to the first grind of the grinding process.

Iowa-based Kemin also offers plant-based preservation extracts for meat and more. The antioxidant properties of these ingredients increase shelf-life while conserving the appearance, taste and quality of food products with no negative impact on flavour, colour and odor profiles, according to Betsy Blades, Kemin’s global marketing manager of Food Technologies. “Kemin’s rosemary manufacturing process yields a highly refined, concentrated, homogeneous extract,” says Blades. “It’s the principle ingredient in our Fortium natural plant extracts and our Fortium RGT/NaturFort, a synergistic blend of rosemary and green tea extracts.” The products delay oxidative rancidity,

Plum extract, like other plubm ingredients from Sunsweet, contain antioxidants, and the antimicrobial and shelf-life benefits derived from antioxidants, particularly neo-chlorogenic acid, are significant. Photo: James M. Degen CMC

especially in ground meats where the fats and heme iron are exposed to air during the harsh grinding process. The products are added through liquid addition to the brine or another aqueous phase of meat processing, or are applied directly to the meat. A powdered form is also available.

PURAC has recently introduced several new clean-label products in Canada for meat and other food product preservation, including PuraQ Verdad NV10 and NV15 for cooked meats. “These products are added as ingredients to the formulation and are effective against a wide range of food pathogens including E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and LM,” says Eva Bar, marketing services manager. Both products are also widely used to help maintain a full flavour profile for sodium-reduced products, she says, and are labelled as cultured sugar or cultured sugar and vinegar.

Also new from PURAC is a line of economical antimicrobial solutions for value brands. “One such product is Opti.form Ace S61, which is a powdered blend of lactate, acetate, and diacetate,” explains Bar. “It does a great job of inhibiting LM and extending shelf-life while adding minimal cost.” Lastly, PURAC now offers a natural meat preservation product called PuraQ Verdad NV05, which is also clean label and is labelled simply as vinegar.

New research

Other preservation technologies are being investigated around the world. In late 2011, a team of Danish scientists published findings that showed that the application of cold atmospheric pressure plasma has “significant” potential in decontamination of the surface of sliced, pre-packaged ready-to-eat meat products inoculated with Listeria innocua. Plasma – an ionised gas created with an electric field – has several antimicrobial components such as UV light, charged particles and hydroxyl radicals. Previous research has shown it able to diminish viruses, endospores and bacteria.

To view the evolving AIP Competence Platform, a database that will list launches of active and intelligent packaging, visit http://kb.activepackaging.eu