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WHEYCOM Report Summary

Project ID: 674797

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - WHEYCOM (Validation and market uptake of a natural disinfection whey-based formula for whole and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables)

Reporting period: 2015-08-01 to 2016-07-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Disinfection is one of the most important processing steps affecting the quality and safety and the shelf-life of the end product in fresh-cut processing. Chlorine-based chemicals, particularly liquid chlorine and sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl), are the most widely used disinfectants in fresh-cut industry. The chlorine-based disinfectants pose health risks. They can react with organic matter in water and form trihalomethanes as by-products, which are carcinogenic compounds. Another concern about applying chlorine or chlorine-containing compound as a disinfecting agent is that the prolonged exposure to chlorine vapors can result in the irritation to the skin and respiratory tract of workers.
Regards to the use of chlorine dioxide, while it does not form trihalomethanes, has other disadvantages such as it is highly unstable and decomposes at temperatures above 30 °C and when exposed to light. It should be noted that chlorine dioxide at concentrations above 10% is explosive, so due to its high reactivity cannot be transported in concentrated form and must be generated in situ.
The use of chlorine in the disinfection operations also generates an environmental impact. Chlorine is included in the indicative list of the Directive on industrial emissions as a major water pollutant.
On the other hand, quality maintenance of fresh produce is still a major challenge for the food industry. Minimal processing of F&V leads to a faster physiological deterioration as well as biochemical changes and microbial degradation of the produce.
In recent years, it has been observed a growing interest in the use of natural products for the preservation of whole and minimally-processed F&V. Some research and commercial applications have demonstrated the suitability of natural components for replacing the traditional washing agents. Synthetic food preservatives traditionally used have been a matter of concern due to the occasional allergic reactions reported, and the formation of potentially carcinogenic by-products such as nitrosamines from nitrite. As a result, an increasing demand for natural preservatives and antimicrobial compounds has been observed among European consumers. The industry of minimally processed F&V is aware of consumer trends and aims to avoid the application of synthetic and chemical preservatives. The use of natural preservatives, as whey, could inhibit spoilage and avoid oxidative processes. For all these reasons there is a need for sanitizers alternative to those currently available, which improve the health, environmental and preservation concerns in fresh and fresh-cut F&V.
The whey is the liquid fraction that is obtained during the production of cheese. The general composition of whey is 93 % of water and 7 % of solid matter, which is comprised of lactose (5-6 %), proteins (0.8-1 %), lipids, minerals and vitamins. The content raised in lactose is the main reason why whey is considered to be a highly polluting product. For each kilogram of cheese about 9 kilograms of whey are generated.
For many years, whey was spilt in rivers and seas without any type of treatment, causing terrible damage in the ecosystems of the affected areas. The high concentration of nutrients present in whey favours the growth of microorganisms which consume big quantities of oxygen, developing at a great speed to the detriment of the autochthonous fauna and flora. The increase in regulation is prompting enterprises in the cheese industry to take measures regarding the treatment of whey, looking for profitable solutions for the large amount of whey these companies generate every year. Current whey processing systems are not economically viable for most SMEs. The main options in this case are either sending whey to cattle farms for animal feed or sending it to whey processor companies. These alternatives do not provide profits to SMEs in the cheese industry.
WHEYCOM proposes a solution to solve this twofold problem by the commercialization of a whey-based sanitizer. This new product is healthier and more sustainable than the current ones, taking advantage of the business opportunity in the F&V industry, which is seeking for alternatives to chlorine to assure the safety of the products and maintain the quality and shelf-life. On the other hand, our sanitizer will benefit disinfectant applicator companies which will offer an innovative solution in their range of products. Additionally, WHEYCOM will help to reduce the amount of waste coming from the cheese industry, providing an interesting alternative for the disposal of whey waste.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The purpose of the project WHEYCOM is to exploit the results of previous efforts carried out in research and development of a whey-based solution for the sanitizing of whole and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables (F&V). To this end, the optimization of the formula and validation, homologation and replication activities will be carried out. This solution was developed in the European Project WHEYSAN “A Natural whey-based disinfection formula: a solution for the sanitizing of whole and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables”, Project Number 315454, approved under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The aim of the project WHEYSAN was to provide a solution for two major issues that currently affect to the competitiveness of the participant SMEs: the management of whey and postharvest disinfection of F&V.
During the first period of the project WHEYCOM, an initial phase of product optimization has been carried out in order to improve the sanitizing formula for better marketing and production, handling and application at industrial scale. Once the formula is improved, pilot trials will allow to prove the efficacy of the sanitizer under a simulated real situation making WHEYCOM product be ready to be marketed. Some actions have been already carried out to look for potential clients.
Afterwards, demonstrations will be conducted in potential clients´facilities to show and verify the sanitizer´s effectivity, and as a result, the final Product Specification will be established.
Intellectual Property and Exploitation and Dissemination activities have already started to ensure protection of knowledge and implementation of the commercialization strategy, respectively. These activities will make it possible to make target audience aware of WHEYCOM sanitizer. This will attract clients, investors and other interesting groups in the F&V and preservative sector that allow to promote our sanitizer. Project management activities are being performed throughout the project to ensure that objectives are clearly defined and visible throughout the project, monitor progress among planned and actual activities, identify risks and issue corrective action plans if necessary.
That way, these activities will allow AGF to show high potential and competitiveness to the start-up of this innovative business.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

WHEYCOM sanitizer represents an advance compared to current F&V disinfection methods and will allow AGF to bring a new product to the preservative and sanitizing market for F&V.
AGF, the project coordinator, is a company in the agricultural and livestock sector, specialized in techniques for the preservation and appropriate storage of F&V as well as the disinfection, fumigation and rodent controls in agro-food and livestock. Its current main lines of work include: Application of phytosanitary products; Application of biocide products; Sale and distribution of phytosanitary and biocide products; Washer-disinfector rental service of drawers and pallets; Rodent control services; Integral control service for agro-food industry. All of these products/services are different from the innovative whey-based sanitizer subject to commercialization in our business project. The new sanitizer has functions different from other products commercialized by AGF so far. It is used for the disinfection of F&V and also fulfills a function as antioxidant prolonging the shelf-life of food by protecting them against deterioration caused by oxidation, such as fat rancidity and color changes. It is used for postharvest treatment.
Regarding the service of application of phytosanitary products offered by AGF, it involves the application of antigerminative products in onions and potatoes. The products used are herbicides. However, the innovative sanitizer is not an herbicide, but it has antibacterial action and it is not only focused on onion and potatoes but it can be used on a broad range of F&V.
With respect to the service of application of biocide products, these disinfectants are not applied on agricultural products, in contrast to the innovative sanitizer which is used for the postharvest treatment of F&V.
Therefore, this project will entail a new business opportunity for AGF, who will offer a new service specialised in F&V disinfection, extending its product portfolio.
The impact our innovative whey-based solution is expected to have is as follows:
- Environmental friendly and sustainable: Due to the main raw material of the new sanitizer is a cheese waste, the amount of waste coming from this industry is reduced, minimizing its environmental concerns and gaining a profit from it. We are improving the efficiency in the use of raw materials, through sustainable circular economy.
- More healthy: With the use of our sanitizer, harmful by-products are not formed in contact to organic matter making our solution more healthy than current chlorine-based disinfectants.
- Added value: Novel natural preservative to be used as a food additive with a sanitation purpose. The idea of a new product must provide added-value to the customer in order to displace competitors. In this respect our innovative solution is a whey-based product that works both, as a sanitizing agent and a natural preservative for F&V due to its antioxidant properties. F&V play an important role in healthy nutrition and are high on the list of consumer priorities. However the major obstacle of purchasing ready-to-eat fresh-cut F&V is their short shelf life, leading to quick degeneration and decomposition of the product and undesirable look and negative palatability. Our sanitizer will extend the F&V self-life.
- Anticipation for future legal requirements: Future regulatory restrictions on the use of chlorine are likely. In some European countries, including Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium the use of chorine in ready-to-use products is prohibited. Therefore, an alternative treatment as a whey-based sanitizer to reduce pathogens from F&V, will allow F&V postharvest treatment companies to adjust to the future requirements easily.
- Less security measures are required: Unlike chlorine-based chemicals, there is no risk associated to spills or leaks during the handling of our sanitizer. The main component is whey, a natural substance harmless to human health and environment.
- Constant availability of raw material: The main raw material of our sanitizer is cheese whey, so suppliers of this raw material will be companies in the cheese industry. Unlike what occurs with other kind of raw materials provided by some few large distributors, cheese industry is fragmented. This will ensure a continuous supply of whey.

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