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HIGH ELECTRIC FIELD PULSES: FOOD SAFETY, QUALITY, AND CRITICAL PROCESS PARAMETERS

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Research and development activities on the application of high electric field pulses (HELP) on food materials, biopolymers and microbial systems have been initiated more than 35 years ago. Due to consumer demands for gentle processes and due to technological developments HELP has received renewed and increased attention during the last decade. It is established that the HELP process has a potential as an emerging unit operation in food processing, preservation and modification. The inactivation of vegetative microbial cells has been demonstrated convincingly. Data on quality attributes of the treated products revealed only minimum changes of their nutritional and sensory quality thus maintaining the fresh like properties of the raw materials as demanded by consumers. Permeabilization of animal and plant membranes by HELP has been achieved affecting metabolite yields and cell structure. Indications exist on the effects of HELP on biopolymers. The successful use of alternating currents followed by high pressure treatment or in combination with mild heat or bacteriocins for food preservation has been reported. The advantages of HELP, a non-thermal, gentle and waste free technology are the low temperature application, its potential for food preservation and modification, the low energy requirement, short processing times and subsequent quality advantages. Expected benefits for the consumer include the availability of gently processed, fresh like and safe products with highest sensory quality and optimum physico-chemical properties. This technology is of special interest to the food industry because it provides an attractive alternative to conventional thermal processing, requires minimal energy, is highly flexible and applicable to a wide range of products and can also be applied as effective preprocessing technology (i.e. to improve heat and mass transfers). A special industry consortium has been initiated within the project to address these specific issues of industrial relevance.