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Superheated Steam-based process for low energy and high quality drying of food and food residues

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A solution for better quality dried foods

An EU-funded initiative has addressed concerns related to quality and consumer demands for the dried food industry. Project efforts were aimed at developing innovative technology to dry products and boosting competitiveness for food processing small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Climate Change and Environment
Industrial Technologies
Food and Natural Resources

The project STEAMDRY (Superheated steam-based process for low energy and high quality drying of food and food residues) worked to enhance the production of high-quality processed foods and deliver a drying process that is energy and cost-efficient and environmentally friendly. Comprised of four SMEs, the consortium focused on three main technological objectives that resulted in three innovative components. The first is a Low Pressure Superheated Steam Drying (LPSSD) system. This drying technology uses superheated steam at low pressure to ensure efficiency through better heat transfer. The LPSSD is fully instrumented and monitored with computer-based data logging systems with features supporting process optimisation. The second is a robust two-step steam cleaning system that removes solids, dust and particles from dirty steam generated by evaporation of the feedstock moisture. The cleaned steam can then be reused in the upstream evaporator, which alone saves up to 15 % of the process energy and lowers maintenance needs. Finally, STEAMDRY developed a food quality multi-sensor and process control utilising a project-designed reliable optical fibre sensing system. This detects and measures in real-time multiple volatile aromas present in the steam during the drying process. The overall process control, based on the sensor and feedback loop on operation parameters, ensures high final product quality and reduced energy consumption of up to 60 %. The system affords numerous benefits and advantages beyond energy savings, less maintenance time and efficient real-time control. These include less odour generation, over 80 % retention of nutrients, removal of 99.7 % particles and reduced microbiological activity in the final product. Test results demonstrated that the approach is valid for high-quality food drying, setting a solid foundation for the industrialisation of STEAMDRY technology. STEAMDRY has contributed an integrated and cost-effective solution for drying fruits and vegetables that retain nutrients, vitamins and aroma. The developments strengthen the position of food processing machinery and food processing SMEs, enabling improved production of high-quality dried products with lower process impact on the energy environment.

Keywords

Dried food, STEAMDRY, processed foods, steam drying, process control, nutrients

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31 October 2020