Since the 2002 discovery of trace amounts of acrylamide in a range of food products, concerns have been raised about the safety of substances formed in food during heat processing. PROMETHEUS (Process contaminants: Mitigation and elimination techniques for high food quality and their evaluation using sensors & Simulation), an EU-funded project, that was set up to address these concerns and achieve this without affecting food quality or microbiological safety. The project investigated how major processing contaminants form and how they are monitored and mitigated. New technologies were developed with industrial applications in mind. Infant formulas, biscuits, canned baby foods, and canned fish and vegetables were chosen as food models. The particular contaminants that were studied included acrylamide, glycidol esters and furan, chosen based on toxicity, consumer exposure and relevance to the food items under study. Researchers looked at different heating methods to prevent contaminant formation. Applications of ohmic heating for baby foods and high-pressure thermal sterilisation to canned fish reduced the levels of processing contaminants. This application fits important consumer demands concerning high-quality foods with naturalness characteristics, maintaining nutritional value and shelf life, as well as in terms of contaminant reduction. Ohmic heating involves passing an electric current through an element. Team members developed prototype sensors to monitor the safety, appearance and nutritional value of food items. They have also prepared a list of compounds that can form during heating. Information and technologies generated during the course of the PROMETHEUS project help protect the consumer. Additional developments also promise to improve competitiveness in the food industry by improving regulation of contaminants.
Heat processing, food contamination, food quality, microbiological safety, processing contaminants